Prior to performing a distraction ankle arthroplasty, the ankle joint first needs to be cleaned out with a minor surgery called arthroscopy where small loose fragments, bone spurs and inflamed tissue inside the ankle are removed.
Either during the arthroscopy or a few weeks later, the cage (called an external fixator) is applied to the leg. This circular cage or a set of rings on the foot and leg allows the ankle to be stretched apart. The ankle is stretched only about 5mm (less than a quarter of an inch). The fixator device is left on the ankle for about 10 weeks.
During the time that the external fixator is on the ankle, the patient is encouraged to walk on the leg as much as possible to stimulate the cartilage. Initially, this is painful, but by about one week is tolerated quite well. Once the fixator is removed, physical therapy and exercises are very important to try to regain as much movement of the ankle as possible.
The ankle remains quite uncomfortable for about six months, but by one year, 80% of patients notice a significant improvement in pain in the ankle.
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