Long-term results following ankle arthrodesis for post-traumatic arthritis

L M Coester, C L Saltzman, J Leupold, W Pontarelli
Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. American Volume 2001, 83-A (2): 219-28

BACKGROUND: Ankle arthrodesis is considered by many to be the standard operative treatment for end-stage ankle arthritis; however, the long-term effect of ankle arthrodesis on other lower-extremity joints remains largely unknown. The purpose of this study was to perform a clinical and radiographic review to determine the effect of ankle arthrodesis on the development of osteoarthritis in other lower-extremity joints.

METHODS: Twenty-three patients who had had an isolated ankle arthrodesis for the treatment of painful posttraumatic arthritis of the ankle were followed for a mean of twenty-two years (range, twelve to forty-four years) after the operation. Each completed standardized, self-reported outcome questionnaires (the Foot Function Index, Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index [WOMAC], and Short Form-36 [SF-36]), was examined clinically by two of the investigators, and underwent complete radiographic examination of the knee, ankle, and foot bilaterally. The radiographic grade of osteoarthritis was determined for each joint, and the levels of overall activity limitation, pain, and disability were determined for each patient from the clinical findings and questionnaire information.

RESULTS: Osteoarthritis of the ipsilateral subtalar (p<0.0001), talonavicular (p<0.0001), calcaneocuboid (p<0.0001), naviculocuneiform (p = 0.0012), tarsometatarsal (p = 0.0009), and first metatarsophalangeal joints (p = 0.0012) was consistently more severe than the osteoarthritis of those joints on the contralateral side. Osteoarthritis did not develop more frequently in the ipsilateral knee or lesser metatarsophalangeal joints than it did on the contralateral side. Significant differences between the two sides were found with regard to overall activity limitation (p<0.0001), pain (p<0.0001), and disability (p<0.0001), with the involved side consistently more symptomatic.

CONCLUSIONS: To our knowledge, the present series represents the longest follow-up study of ankle arthrodesis to date. Our cohort of patients all had isolated post-traumatic ankle arthritis, and each underwent a successful isolated ankle arthrodesis. At a mean of twenty-two years, the majority of the patients had substantial, and accelerated, arthritic changes in the ipsilateral foot but not the knee. They were often limited functionally by foot pain. Although ankle arthrodesis may provide good early relief of pain, it is associated with premature deterioration of other joints of the foot and eventual arthritis, pain, and dysfunction.

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