Foot and Ankle Surgery: What to Expect
The date is circled on your calendar. You’ve talked over your options with your podiatric surgeon, and set a date for surgery. That’s good—it means you’re on your way to overcoming your pain and getting back to living your fullest, best life! That said, the ultimate level of success isn’t just about the chosen procedure or the skill of your surgeon. The better prepared you are, and the more you understand the process and your responsibilities, the better able you’ll be to get the greatest benefit and fastest healing from your procedure. Below, you can read about what to expect, how to prepare, and tips to think about before, during, and after your procedure.
Before Surgery: The PreparationHere are some things to think about in the days leading up to your surgery, in order to be proactive about your recovery:
- Stock up on supplies. The first several days or even weeks after surgery, getting around may be difficult. Make sure you’re well stocked with food, clean clothes, and other goods and supplies so you don’t have to work so hard to get them.
- Rearrange your house as necessary. Cleaning up clutter, making sure everyday goods are close at hand (and not stuck on high shelves), installing grab bars or railings where necessary, or even moving your bed to the ground floor to eliminate risky stair travel can help make you more comfortable and less likely to hurt yourself.
- Get help. If possible, get a schedule together so that a spouse, children, parents, or friends are regularly nearby and able to assist with difficult tasks.
- Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol. These habits should cease well before the date of surgery. Both can slow your circulation, which both increases the risk of post-surgical complications and lengthens the expected recovery window.
The Day of Surgery: The ProcedureSpecific surgical procedures, obviously, can vary quite a bit—bunion reconstruction is very different from, say, ankle arthroscopy. Your surgeon will of course educate you on the details and help you prepare for any unique considerations. Here are some other things to keep in mind:
- Don’t eat or drink anything (even water) after midnight on the day of your surgery. We’re serious. Don’t do it. This greatly increases the risk of nausea, vomiting, or other issues that can greatly complicate surgery.
- Wear loose, comfy clothes. The clothes you wear on the way to your surgery are going to be the clothes you wear on your way home. Make sure they’re comfy and will fit around any casts, splints, or external hardware.
- Make sure you bring your documents! We strongly recommend you bring your medical insurance card, legal ID, list of medications, any pre-surgical test results (if they were conducted by a different physician). Other good things to bring include cash, credit cards, and a small bag for personal belongings.
- We’ll chat with you again. Before the procedure begins, we’ll have one more talk with you to go over the procedure and address any lingering questions or concerns. We want you to be fully knowledgeable and comfortable with the procedure. You may also have some choice over your level of anesthesia.
- When can you go home? The vast majority of our procedures are performed in-office and out-patient, meaning you won’t have to be hospitalized overnight. You’ll spend an appropriate time in recovery, then can go home. Make sure you have a loved one at the ready to handle your transportation.
After Surgery: The RecoveryThe length and nature of your recovery will, of course, vary depending on the location and type of procedure. Timelines won’t always be the same. But in general, here’s what you can expect:
- The first few days: Pain, swelling, and even bruising or discoloration is normal in the immediate aftermath of surgery. Make sure you avoid putting weight on the repaired foot, take your prescribed medications as directed, and keep your feet elevated as much as possible. A very low-grade fever is also possible; contact us immediately if your temperature exceeds 100.5 degrees or feverish symptoms last longer than a week.
- Follow-up appointments. We’ll typically schedule a few follow-up appointments, with the first coming a few days to a week after surgery. These appointments are to check your progress, as well as perform any secondary procedures (such as removing casts, stitches, or hardware).
- Follow your surgeon’s recommendations to the letter. We’ll repeat it one last time—each surgery is different. Depending on the procedure, there may be different rules and guidelines dictating how to keep your surgical site dry, when you can begin light weight-bearing activity, even dietary restrictions. These guidelines are put in place to help you heal as quickly and safely as possible, and you should always follow them—even if you feel like you’re “ahead of schedule.” Doing too much, too fast can delay the healing process or even reverse some of the progress that has already occurred.
- Physical therapy and a gradual return to full activity. Over the weeks and months following your surgery, you will slowly return to activities like light weight bearing, driving, wearing normal shoes, and ultimately full activity. During this time, a program of physical therapy will be important. After surgery, affected muscles, tendons, and other tissues may be weakened due to both the procedure and relatively lack of activity during recovery. Proper rehab will help you rebuild that lost strength, which in turn helps prevent re-injury.