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Choosing a Fusion: January 19, 2014

Ankle fusion- it remains the standard surgery for patients with a worn out joint who wants to remain active.

“Most people are about 95% in six months. When they hit the year out, that’s really when they hit their stride, when they hit the point when they say ‘it’s a memory, not a problem anymore’,” says Dr. Jason Nemitz, foot and ankle orthopedic surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

The procedure requires an orthopedic surgeon to strip the joint of its cartilage and then resurface the bones; the final step is to fuse them together.

“You fix the two joints with a series of screws and the idea being if you compress those two joints together and put those two surfaces of the prepared bone together, you’re trying to convince those two surfaces that they’re actually a broken bone that they’re going to heal to each other,” says Dr. Nemitz.

The screws are there initially for support and compression, but by the time it’s healed, theoretically you can take out all the implants and it’s still a solid fusion.

“The foot can go up and down around that joint. All the side-to-side motion is preserved so most people usually only lose about 5 to 10 degrees of motion after this type of surgery,” says Dr. Nemitz.

People generally choose surgery, when they are living with a great deal of pain, which limits their life and their mobility. Fusing the bones takes away the pain and only slightly limits flexibility.

“From a functional standpoint especially with ankle fusions you’d be surprised with how much you’re left with afterwards,” says Dr. Nemitz.