It’s important to refrain from walking in the weeks after ankle surgery. It may take a year to fully recover depending on your surgeon’s instructions and the amount of repair work involved.

Studies have shown that the number of ankle and foot surgeries performed in the United States is increasing every year. These surgeries treat fractures, tendinitis, or arthritis that medications and other procedures haven’t resolved, but the recovery involved isn’t always simple.

A doctor can provide more information about what to expect after your specific ankle surgery, but we’ve gathered information to help you understand the recovery process that may lie ahead.

Complete recovery from ankle surgery may take a year, but you won’t typically be immobilized this whole time.

Approximately 3 months after surgery you may be more mobile, and many individuals feel better 6 months after surgery. Recovery time varies depending on the type of surgery and the amount of repair work necessary.

The amount of time recovery takes may extend if you:

  • smoke (for the fastest healing, it’s best to stop before surgery occurs)
  • live with any type of diabetes
  • have rheumatoid arthritis
  • develop an infection or other risks after surgery
  • have obesity
  • have fragile bone quality
  • have a severe soft tissue injury

When you can return to work will depend on the type of work you do. A doctor should be able to provide you with an estimated recovery timeline before your surgery.

After ankle surgery, you’ll want to avoid putting any weight or pressure on your ankle until a doctor approves.

Walking too soon after surgery can cause pain and additional swelling, and it can also prevent bones and tissues from healing properly.

It’s important to follow whatever recommendations a doctor provides for resting and keeping your foot elevated after surgery.

Staying in bed too long can increase the risk of a blood clot forming.

When you’re ready to be more mobile, crutches and other assistive devices can allow you to get around without walking or putting pressure on your ankle.

Crutches are beneficial because they allow you to get around without putting pressure on your foot after ankle surgery. Other assistive devices, such as knee scooters, walking boots, and wheelchairs, can be utilized if you prefer not to use crutches.

A doctor or physical therapist can help you decide what assistive tool might be best.

Ankle surgery can be painful, but a doctor can prescribe medications to help with pain during and after the surgery.

A spinal block may be used for pain during your ankle surgery, and it can also provide relief in the hours immediately after surgery. A nerve block in your ankle, if used, can also help with the pain.

Doctors will also typically prescribe narcotic pain medications for you to take at home as you heal from ankle surgery. A doctor may also recommend taking ibuprofen to help reduce inflammation.

While pain medications can help control pain levels, it’s also important to remember to ice the ankle, elevate it, and use compression as recommended by a doctor.

A 2022 study revealed that pain, especially during important activities, is one of the primary reasons people decide to get ankle surgery, and the hope of living without this discomfort provides motivation through the surgery and recovery process.

Individuals in the study note uncomfortable symptoms such as pain, swelling, and unpleasant sensations in the weeks after surgery. One person even reported feeling as if they were still wearing a sock in the shower when they were barefoot.

Most people in the study were ultimately pleased with the final outcome of their surgery. A few individuals experienced chronic pain and continued to have difficulty walking despite their surgery, but their individual perspectives and goals often determined whether they considered their surgery a success or failure.

Warning signs after angle surgery

Especially in the weeks right after surgery, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms of infection.

You’ll want to let a doctor know right away if you have trouble breathing, heart palpitations, or experience redness, heat, or severe pain in the upper leg, knee, or calf muscle. These symptoms may indicate that you have developed a blood clot.

Make sure to also notify a doctor if, after ample time for healing, you have chronic pain and ankle instability. You’ll want to let a doctor know if you hear grinding noises when you move your ankle or have difficulty putting weight on it. These symptoms may mean that your ankle hasn’t healed properly.

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Recovery from ankle surgery can take up to a year, and it requires not putting pressure on the ankle as it heals. You’ll probably need to spend time resting and use crutches, a knee scooter, or a wheelchair to mobilize.

If you have pain that persists longer than expected after surgery, it’s important to talk with a doctor. An examination can help to reveal if something has gone wrong with the healing process.