Recovering from Ankle Replacement – Phase I

Orthopaedic & Spine Center


Dr. Joel Stewart & patientJoel D. Stewart, MD

Recovery from an ankle replacement surgery is lengthy and occurs in three phases. Here’s what you can expect in Phase I as you recuperate:

Phase I

For the first 4-6 weeks, at home recovery consists of four main goals: 1) keeping weight off your newly replaced ankle; 2) managing post-surgical discomfort as you heal from surgery; 3) keeping your ankle elevated above the heart to reduce post-operative swelling and; 4) starting gentle range of motion movement. 

  1. You will be given a knee scooter, iWalk, wheelchair or crutches to use at home, depending on your pre-surgical strength and condition.  It is essential not to put weight on your ankle at this point, to allow your bone to fuse into your implant prosthesis.
  2. Pain management after an ankle replacement surgery is very important.  The nerve block you were given in surgery to numb your foot and ankle usually lasts 12-18 hours.  Because ankle replacement is a major surgery, you can expect some post-operative discomfort, which will lessen in the days after your procedure.  You will be sent home from the hospital with prescription pain medication to take for about 1-2 weeks.  Then, you can expect to come off any prescription pain medications and switch to Tylenol or Naproxen Sodium. Intermittent icing also will help with pain and swelling.
  3. Elevating your ankle above your heart helps with post-operative swelling.  You have my permission to sit all the way back in your Lazy Boy recliner and watch TV or snooze to your heart’s content.  Often you will find you are not in a lot of pain when your foot is elevated. When you head to the bathroom or kitchen, you may notice a throbbing in your foot. This is normal and should happen with less frequency and take longer to occur as your recovery continues.
  4. Gentle ROM (range of motion) exercises can be started at the two-week mark of recovery.  You will be given detailed printed instructions on what and what not to do.  You will continue these until I release you to outpatient physical therapy.
  5. Ankle replacement surgery does not have as high of a risk of blood clots (DVTs) as total knees or hip replacement, but it can happen.  If you get a cramp in your calf or feel short of breath, you need to let us know immediately, so we can screen you for a clot.  We may put you on blood thinners if you have had a clot before or maybe aspirin.

At the two-week mark, you will have an in-office post-surgical follow up appointment with me where I will remove the sutures from your incision site, (or check on the glue closing your incision), check for any signs of infection and I may also get some x-rays to see how your implant is fusing into your bone. I may also put you into a new splint that is hard in the back and soft and flexible in the front to allow for continued healing of your ankle.  Depending on your level of recovery, I will give you a prescription for Physical Therapy to be started at the 4-6 week mark, also known as the beginning of Phase II of your recovery.



Make an appointment with Dr. Stewart or another OSC provider by clicking the “Request Appointment” button below or by calling (757) 596-1900.