Athletes and Ankle Arthroscopy – What You Should Know

by | Jul 27, 2018

If you’re active in a sport—from casual play to semi-pro or professional levels—then you likely either know someone who has dealt with an ankle injury, or dealt with one yourself.

You might also know there can be that persistent worry that some mull with a troubled ankle. Is this worth doing something about? Can I just treat the pain and play through the problem? If I need surgery, could I come out weaker than I came in?

These are strong concerns, especially if you have invested so much into your performance. However, playing on an injured or unstable ankle is far from risk-free. If action should be taken to surgically treat an ankle, doing so sooner is almost always going to lead to better results than going in after more wear is made to the injured area!

In certain cases, ankle arthroscopy may be a suitable method for surgery—and a very good option for athletes looking to return to their level of play in a relatively short time.

What is Ankle Arthroscopy?

Proper Stretching

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure in which very small incisions are made into the skin. We then insert an arthroscope—a flexible metal tube that is a little thinner than a pencil—into the incisions from various angles.

The arthroscope includes a camera, light, and small tools. We are able to see closely into the area in need of treatment via the camera feed (instead of a wider incision to open the foot) and operate using the scope’s tools.

Ankle arthroscopy can be an effective method for clearing scar tissue, inflamed tissue, bone spurs, or loose fragments that may be causing problems in a joint. It can even be used to repair a small fracture!

What Are the Benefits of Ankle Arthroscopy?

The truth of any surgery is that it never leaves the target site the same way it was before. That’s great news when what was there before was damage and inflammation, but things will never exactly be the same as they were before an injury, either.

One of the primary benefits of ankle arthroscopy is that it minimizes the altering effects of surgery on healthy tissue by cutting into and through it as little as possible. The arthroscope’s camera feed and tools provide us all we need to see and operate with superb precision and clarity.

The pros of this method compared to standard ankle surgery are many:

  • Reduced swelling, as the body’s reaction to tissue damage is limited to a smaller scale.
  • Reduced pain.
  • Faster recovery time. Every case is different, but usually most of the swelling and discomfort from arthroscopy resolves within 2-3 weeks. After 6-8 weeks, performance tends to be better than it was before surgery.
  • Reduced risk of infection. The less exposed you leave a surgical site, the less the chances are of infection. While there is always a non-zero chance of infection with any surgery, arthroscopy keeps it to a minimum.

What Does This Mean for Athletes?

Athlete Injury Prevention

Once again, the type of ankle injury an athlete has, their level of performance, the amount of time between injury and surgery, and many other factors can influence both whether arthroscopy is an option and how effective the end results are.

However, most arthroscopy procedures in athletes see them returning to the same level of play they were at before they started.

In a 2006 study of 61 athletes who received ankle arthroscopy, 73% were back to their level of play (ranging from amateur to professional) when contacted for follow-up 10-24 months after surgery. Of the pros, 15/17 remained at their level, while the other two were now at a lower level.

It should be noted that the players waited an average of 7 months between injury and arthroscopy. This is a long time to wait, and the study argues that this could have had an influence on some of the more aggravated outcomes.

On a more individual, highlighted note, quarterback Eli Manning had arthroscopy performed in 2014. People had worries it could end his career then, but he’s still forging on at 37. He was able to have his surgery during the off-season and not interrupt his 210-game streak from 2004-2017.

Expert Ankle Care in Ladera Ranch

Ankle arthroscopy may not be the possible route to go to address a painful problem. In some cases, other treatments to correct or manage symptoms may be needed.

Whatever the case, however, taking steps to address a problem before spending months “playing through it” is always going to benefit your level of comfort and enjoyment of life in the end!

Before we take steps toward any sort of treatment with a patient, we make sure to discuss all the options available and how they will pertain to their goals and lifestyle. We want any choice a patient makes to be one made with full confidence and a clear understanding of potential outcomes.

Call Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists at (949) 364-9255 to schedule an appointment with us. You can also fill out our online form or schedule an appointment via PatientFusion.