Ankle replacements take a step forward

Doctor inspects Marnee Loftin's ankle replacement.
Doctor inspects Marnee Loftin's ankle replacement.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — You’ve heard of knee and hip replacements, but did you know there are also ankle replacements now? They are being done now more than ever thanks to improved technology.

Marnee Loftin is a retired psychologist who loves to travel with her husband. But last year, she re-aggravated an old ankle injury while hiking a hill in Slovakia. She needed a doctor. She recalls, “When I came in he said guess what, they now have an ankle replacement, so I signed up with great eagerness.”

Ankle replacements have been available for the past few decades but they were rare until recent improvements in the cobalt chrome implant.

Dr. Brannan Smoot, an orthopedic surgeon with Texas Orthopedics, explains, “Doing research, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work, figuring out the instrumentation to get the proscisis in properly, it is a smaller joint than a knee or hip, so it’s a tricky little joint.”

Between her injury and arthritis, Marnee would have normally been a candidate for an ankle fusion, but this was preferred. According to Dr. Smoot, “If you have an ankle replacement you get more normal motion in the ankle, it helps you walk with a more normal gait. It also protects the joints around the ankle. If you fuse an ankle you typically get arthritis in the joints downstream after ten to twenty years.”

Marnee’s surgery was a breeze, but having to stay off her feet for seven weeks was not easy. She smiles, “It’s really tough. When you’re doing it 24 hours a day you are just going bonkers by the end of it.”

Marnee has more vacations planned now, to the Dakota Black Hills and Switzerland, and there will be no trouble getting around. She adds, “I love it. I’ve been recommending it. I would have done it years ago if it had been available.”

If you are an appropriate patient for an ankle replacement it is covered by insurance and medicare. Ideal candidates would be over the age of 50, not too vigorous in their activities and of normal weight. The ankle implant normally is good for about 15 years.

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