If you’re a sports fan, you’re probably at least familiar with the term “arthroscopic surgery,” even if you don’t quite know what it is.
This technique is popular among high-performance athletes with joint issues (including the ankles, knees, shoulders, etc.), and for good reason. But it’s not just for your favorite quarterback or catcher. Arthroscopic surgery offers many benefits and advantages when compared to open surgery, for patients of all ages and activity levels.
Read on to learn a little bit more about ankle arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure that we have performed countless times, and how it has helped those struggling with pain and reduced mobility.
What Is Arthroscopic Surgery?
The word “arthroscopy” comes from Greek. “Arthro” means “joint,” while the “-scopy” comes from the Greek verb meaning “to look.”
In other words, arthroscopy means “to look within the joint,” and that’s pretty much what happens. We make a small incision near the joint, then insert a tiny camera on the end of a fiber optic tube into the joint itself. This is called an arthroscope. One or two additional small incisions provide just enough room for small, specialized surgical instruments to enter and perform the repair work.
The arthroscope allows us to see what we’re doing and complete the surgery without requiring a large open incision, which is necessary for most traditional surgeries.
Why Choose Arthroscopy for Your Ankle Problem?
There are many significant benefits to arthroscopic surgery.
Less pain and lower risk of post-surgical complications. Larger incisions mean greater exposure to potential sources of infection. Since arthroscopic ankle surgery uses only very small incisions, your risk of infection or wound breakdown is significantly lower (although not completely eradicated). Pain and bleeding are also significantly reduced compared to a more conventional open surgery.
Less scarring. Smaller incisions also, logically, means smaller and less noticeable scars. At our office, we also employ plastic surgery techniques such as intracuticular and absorbable sutures to reduce the formation of scar tissue even further. And that’s if you need stitches at all—sometimes the arthroscopic incisions are small enough that sutures aren’t even necessary.
No hospitalization. We perform arthroscopic surgery on ankles as an outpatient procedure, either at our office or a nearby surgical center. You can thus avoid the time-consuming (and expensive!) need for an overnight hospital stay and can recovery comfortably at home.
Faster recovery time. Arthroscopic procedures tend to heal faster than open surgeries and enable you to begin your physical therapy and rehabilitation earlier—and the sooner you can move on to physical therapy, the less work you’ll need to do to get your ankle back up to full fitness. Most people can return to work and normal activities within one to two weeks, and sometimes even sooner. Full recovery and a return to high-level competitive sports may take as little as 4-6 weeks.
What Kinds of Conditions Can Be Treated with Ankle Arthroscopy?
The arthroscopic procedure can be used to correct or improve several common ankle problems. These include:
- Many types of arthritis, joint pain, and joint impingement. Arthroscopic surgery is a good choice for “cleaning” arthritic joint surfaces, repairing damaged cartilage, removing bone fragments or scar tissue, relieving inflammation in synovial lining (synovitis), and dealing with other problems that contribute to joint pain and stiffness. This restores pain-free motion to the ankle.
- Ankle instability. The tendons and ligaments which support and stabilize the ankle can become stretched, torn, and unstable after repetitive overuse, a bad sprain, or frequent trauma. Arthroscopy may be used to tighten these connective tissues and stop you from feeling like your ankle is about to give way.
- Plantar fasciitis. Although plantar fasciitis is associated with pain in the bottom of the heel, it results from a ligament that attaches to the heel bone and links the front of the foot to the heel, ankle, and calf. An ankle arthroscopy procedure may provide an ideal approach to releasing a tight plantar fascia that hasn’t responded to conservative treatments.
Although ankle arthroscopic surgery is highly versatile and successful for a wide range of conditions, it is not always appropriate. Some people with severe arthritis or significant narrowing of the space between bones in a joint may require a more traditional surgical procedure.
The lesson, as always, is that you should always seek treatment as early as possible when you know something is wrong. If you do this, we’ll have more and better options for treatment on the table.
Is an arthroscopic surgery right for your ankle pain? There’s only one way to find out. To schedule an appointment with the experienced, exceptional team at North Austin Foot & Ankle Institute, give us a call at one of our two convenient Austin-area locations:
- Cedar Park: (512) 593-2949
- Round Rock: (512) 960-4290