Recovery after Foot and Ankle Surgery

You guessed it. The short answer is, it depends! What kind of foot and ankle surgery are you having? Will there be work done on bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, or all of the above?  Below you’ll find some general guidelines on what to expect for the recovery after foot and ankle surgery.  Remember: no matter what kind of surgery you have, the surgery is usually the easy part, and the recovery and rehabilitation is what takes time and effort.

Types of Foot and Ankle Surgery

Altogether, there are twenty-eight bones in the foot, joints between these bones, ligaments to connect them, muscles and tendons to move them, and nerves to power these muscles and tendons.  So it’s no surprise that there are a lot of different kinds of surgery that may be performed to help with foot and ankle function.  To simplify, you can ask, does the surgery involve bone?  Or just soft tissue?  Surgeries that involve bone include ones to treat broken bones (fractures), change the structure of bones (for example, bunion correction), treat arthritis (such as a joint replacement or fusion).  Surgeries that affect only soft tissue may include neuroma excision, certain hammertoe repairs, tendon repairs, and ligament repairs for repeated sprains.  Many times, patients will need both types of procedures.

General times to recover from Foot and Ankle Surgery

Generally, you will initially need 1-2 weeks off from your usual routine while your incision heals after surgery.  Then, your surgeon will check your incision, and remove your sutures if the skin is healed.  You may need to remain off of your foot (non-weight bearing) for additional time, depending on the type of surgery you had. Many procedures that involve bone work require this.  For most procedures requiring you to be non-weight bearing, the time period is between 4-6 weeks.  For some procedures, you can be partial-weight bearing (for example, heel-weight bearing), for that amount of time.

When can I go back to work?

Sometimes, you might be able to return to work as soon as your stitches are removed. This depends on what kind of work you do and your activity restrictions.  For example, do you have a desk job?  Does your surgeon want you to be off of your foot? Will your work allow you to use crutches or a scooter?  Will you have the opportunity to elevate your leg, or take breaks?

When should I start physical therapy?

Your surgeon will tell you if you need to do physical therapy after surgery.  If so, this can start between 2-6 weeks after surgery, depending on the procedure you’ve had.

When can I drive?

If your surgery involves your driving foot/feet (consider whether you drive an automatic or manual transition), then you should not drive until you are cleared by your surgeon.  This usually requires that you are allowed to bear weight on your operative foot, and that you are not taking any narcotic pain medications.  It’s a good idea to practice driving after a period of immobilization since your reaction time may have slowed.

Where can I find and orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle surgery?

Locally, we have excellent orthopedic surgeons who specialize in foot and ankle surgery.  Doctors Andrew Haskell, Todd Kim, and Debbie Dang are Board Certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons.  Additionally, you can search for a foot and ankle surgeon through the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society.

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