Key Points About Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle

  • A surgical alignment is an urgent procedure that is often performed right after the trauma has occurred.
  • If you experience a fracture of dislocation where your bone has punctured through the skin, your bones have broken in several places, or your ankle is unstable, you may need a surgical realignment.
  • During the alignment, your doctor will use metal plates and screws to fuse and stabilize the ankle joint.
  • You will likely need a splint or cast and use crutches to get around after surgery. The recovery time will vary depending on how severe your injury is and the location of the break.
  • You will be advised to avoid placing any weight on the foot until your doctor has cleared you.

Surgical realignment of the foot or ankle, also known as open reduction and internal fixation, is a surgery where your doctor will surgically place a foot or ankle bone into the correct position.

When the joint comes out of position, it is painful because the bones do not align properly. 

Your doctor can perform a surgical realignment on any joint of the foot or ankle. 

The goal of the procedure is to help the foot or ankle function properly and prevent future problems.

Candidates for a Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle

You may need a surgical realignment if you have a foot or ankle fracture or dislocation that has:

  • Broken through the skin.
  • Broken bones in several pieces.
  • Made your ankle unstable.
  • Forced the pieces of your leg severely out of position.

Your doctor will perform a surgical realignment right after your injury. Many ankle fractures or dislocations occur due to accidents, traumas, or sporting trauma.

Risks Associated with a Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle

Complications associated with a surgical realignment of the foot or ankle are not common but can occur.

Complications may include:

  • Damage to nerves.
  • Infection.
  • Bleeding.
  • Blood clots.
  • Fat embolism.
  • Bone failure to heal or out of position.
  • Skin infections or complications.

If the fracture or dislocation does not heal properly, you will need to repeat the surgery. 

Your doctor will outline risks that you may expect. Your risk of complications vary depending on how old you are, the location of the fracture or dislocation and your general health

Preparing for Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle 

A surgical realignment is an urgent procedure. If you have suffered a dislocation as a result of a car accident, your doctor will likely decide to perform the surgery right after the accident.

In the hospital, your doctor will take a full medical history, perform a physical exam, and take an X-ray of the affected area. Inform your doctor of all medications you are taking, including OTC and herbal medicines.

If your doctor decides to wait to do the surgical alignment, you will have to keep the ankle immobile, stop taking any medications such as a blood thinner before surgery. You will also be asked to stop eating at midnight the night before surgery.

What to Expect During Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle 

Surgical realignment of the foot or ankle is an open surgery performed under general anesthesia. 

Your surgeon will make several small incisions in your ankle and insert small surgical instruments to cut the bones and align them in the joint. Your doctor may use metal plates or screws to fuse and stabilize the joint. 

After the joint is properly aligned and stabilized, your surgeon will remove bone fragments and damaged cartilage. He or she will then repair the layers of skin and muscle around the injury.

Duration of Surgical Realignment for the Foot or Ankle Recovery

  • Some patients can go home after surgery, while others may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two.  
  • You will be fitted for a splint or cast to wear during recovery. You also may need crutches to get around. 
  • Avoid putting weight on your ankle until your doctor has cleared you. 
  • Recovery time depends on the severity of your injury and how complicated the surgery is.
  • Your surgeon will likely recommend physical therapy to help you regain your strength and ankle range of motion.
  • The metal plates or screws used in surgery will remain in your ankle. If they cause long-term pain, you may need to have them surgically removed.