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February 3, 2021

How to recover from foot and ankle injuries

They carry us from room to room. They help us run through the park. They ground us when we hug our children and grandchildren. Our feet and ankles support us throughout our lives. So, when we suffer an ankle sprain or injure our foot, getting the right care matters. To help you heal sore ankles and feet, orthopedic surgeon Christopher Hubbard, MD, answers some common questions.

Who is at highest risk for foot and ankle injuries?

Injuries such as ankle sprains, ankle strains, mid-foot injuries and Achilles tendon injuries are most common in athletes. This includes children, adolescents and young adults who engage in competitive sports, along with recreational athletes of any age. In addition, older people are at risk for arthritic or degenerative conditions that have progressed over time in the foot or ankle. 

When should someone see a doctor for a foot or ankle injury?

When patients experience any type of acute foot or ankle injury—or when they experience any pain or swelling—they should see an expert who can help them relieve the pain and get back to full function. The sooner you get a diagnosis and learn your options, the faster we can help.

Does seeing an orthopedist mean you will need surgery?

No. We always start with conservative treatments, which may include rest, physical therapy or a special shoe (orthotics), a cast or a splint depending upon your injury or condition. We also give patients tips on how to prevent future injuries.

How common is arthritis in the foot and ankle?

While it’s more common in the hip and knee joints, arthritis can occur in the foot and ankle. Most often it’s happens with people who suffered a foot or ankle fracture when they were younger. In severe cases, foot or ankle arthritis will cause pain with every step.

What options are there for people with severe ankle arthritis?

In the past, people with severe ankle arthritis had only two options: live with the pain or get fusion surgery. The problem with fusion surgery is that fused ankles can’t move. That adds stress to the nearby bones, which then may also develop arthritis. But a third option—total ankle replacement—is emerging as an alternative. The implants have improved greatly over the past 20 years, with 90% of ankle implants lasting 10 years. That’s just a little less than total hip or knee replacement implants, which are much more common.

Our expert orthopedic specialists can help you recover from foot and ankle injuries >

Dr. Hubbard recently completed Chilton Medical Center's first total ankle replacement surgery with great success. During the two-hour procedure, Dr. Hubbard removed a thin wafer of bone and replaced it with a metal and polyethylene implant that’s designed to mimic the natural movement of the ankle. 

“This surgery is a real game changer for people whose ankle arthritis causes constant pain and limits their activity,” says Dr. Hubbard, who joined the medical center last year after spending 17 years at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Chilton Medical Center is part of an Atlantic Health System orthopedic team that performs more than 4,000 hip, knee and ankle replacement surgeries each year.