Subtalar arthrodesis is the procedure where the subtalar joint, between the talus and calcaneus, is fused. Surgery to make two or more different bones grow together is called Arthrodesis, or Fusion. This is a common surgical technique used to treat hindfoot arthritis. It is often used for patients who have previously had a talus fracture or calcaneus fracture, and have chronic pain.
This surgery requires hospitalization for one night. You will need a General anesthetic or Spinal anesthetic.
During the surgery a 3 inch long incision is made about the outside of the hindfoot. The bone ends are prepared by removing any remaining cartilage.
They are held together with a screw that is placed through a small second incision on the top of the hindfoot.
A Bone Graft is often used to fill any gaps in the bones, and improve the chances of solid fusion. This is routinely taken from the iliac crest, above the hip. That will be taken from the same side as the foot.
Day of Surgery
At the end of the surgical procedure the wounds are covered and a short leg plaster splint is applied. That dressing gives support to the foot, holding it securely. That should be left in place until I change it at the first post-operative office visit.
You will be given crutches or a walker at the hospital, and I want you to not put any weight on that leg during the first 6 weeks. In the hospital a physical therapist will instruct you in using the crutches or walker. Do not walk on the splint.
You should try to keep your foot elevated as much as possible to minimize swelling.
When your pain is under control, and you can safely get around without putting weight on the ankle, you may go home. Look here for things to watch for after inpatient surgery.
The first post-operative visit is usually 7 – 10 days after surgery. At that time I will remove the splint and dressings, wash your foot, and take out the skin staples or stitches.
I will then put your leg into a short leg cast. This is not a walking cast, so you will still need to use the crutches or walker. You will wear this until 6 weeks after the surgery. Do not walk on the cast.
The second post-operative visit is usually at the 6 week point. At that time I will remove the cast, and check to make sure that everything is healing satisfactorily. I will then have you go into a CAM Walker, and you will wear that for protected weightbearing for an additional 6 weeks. You must wear it when you do any walking.
I will ask to see you next after an additional 6 weeks, the 3 months point after surgery. I will have you get an Xray then to make sure that the arthrodesis is healing satisfactorily, and there are no problems with the metal implants. I will allow you to go into a regular shoe then.
Most people “wean” off the CAM Walker and back into a regular shoe. This takes a variable amount of time, and depends on how comfortable the regular shoe feels. It may take a few days, or up to a month.
Most patients have swelling about the surgical area that lasts for about 4 months after surgery. It generally takes 9 – 12 months for complete healing to occur.
The goal of the surgery is to leave you with a painless foot that will allow normal walking. How successful that will be is variable. It is usually possible to make the foot pain-free for daily activities. Most patients will have some degree of soreness that is hopefully mild. Most patients will notice discomfort when the weather changes.
Loss of hindfoot motion will put a restriction on the types of shoes you can wear. Generally a flat shoe will be okay. You may not be able to wear a heel over 1 inch.
Loss of hindfoot motion will make walking on any surface that is irregular difficult. That would include gravel, sand, or on a trail. You may have trouble walking well along an incline. You should be able to walk on flat surfaces fine.
Complications can occur with any surgery. Go here for a general discussion of Surgical Complications.
Specific risks of this surgery include the possibility of the bone not healing, or non-union, and implant problems. It would be rare for subtalar arthrodesis to cause problems in the ankle joint, but you could develop arthritis further down in the foot over the ensuing years.