Ankle replacement surgery starting to gain traction

Published: Feb. 21, 2018 at 2:51 PM EST
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Cheryl Pratt's ankle is a lot better than it has been in three years. She broke it in three places and dislocated it during a fall on the ice. And despite several surgeries to repair the damage, Pratt ended up with chronic arthritis and constant pain.

"I work 12 hours, so I'm on my feet. It was a lot of pain. I had to do something. I couldn't do a lot of things, like climb up stairs or walk very far," Pratt said.

But now, that's hopefully changing thanks to the ankle replacement surgery she had Dec. 20. Six weeks out and she's making progress.

Dr. Mark Charlson performed Pratt's surgery at the University of Vermont Medical Center, the first in the state in nearly 10 years. Charlson says they were done nationwide in the 1970s, '80s and early '90's before doctors fully understood the biomechanics of the ankle. He says today's metal and plastic prosthesis-- the one he uses-- is a vast improvement.

"The current implant that I use has had really some pretty good follow-up data, at 14 and even at 17 years, which is showing results are still good even at that time, even with 90 percent of patients having an ankle replacement that's still functioning well for them," Charlson said.

Charlson says ankle fusion surgery is still the gold standard for those with arthritic ankles, particularly younger, more athletic patients who, for instance, want to ski moguls or jog. He says ankle replacements are designed for older patients involved in lower impact activities, including walking or hiking.

"When the ankle is arthritic, it really affects the whole person. They can't get out and do the things that we take for granted-- going to the store, walking around the block, and it can be really depressing for people. So by giving them essentially a new lease on life by replacing an arthritic ankle, it can really improve their quality of life," Charlson said.

That's what Cheryl Pratt is looking forward to-- long walks, gardening and playing with her grandchildren again. She calls them simple pleasures and expects her transplanted ankle will deliver.