Ankles Join Knees and Hips as Replaceable Joints

Ankle replacement surgeries on the rise, even though many private insurers refuse to pay for them.  Aging baby boomers are going bionic, thanks to the more than 770,000 hip and knee replacement surgeries performed annually in the United States. Now, ankles are increasingly becoming candidates for replacement as 4,400 patients are expected to undergo surgery to replace arthritic or injured ankles with artificial joints crafted of metal alloys or lightweight plastic this year.  Four model replacement ankles have the blessing of the Food and Drug Administration and demand for the surgery is expected to increase.

Ankle replacements have been available for more than 30 years, though demand for the surgery has been limited because the procedure is complicated and many foot and ankle surgeons lack necessary experience.  Additionally, while Medicare pays for ankle replacement surgeries, many private insurers do not.

Dr. Craig S. Radnay, an associate at the Insall Scott Kelly Institute for Orthopedic and Sports Medicine in New York, is a “big believer” in ankle replacement surgery for certain patients.  “For an ankle replacement, you have to be a little more picky in who you select for those cases.  But I can’t tell you how many patients come in, and I mention this option they don’t even know exists,” notes Dr. Radnay, who has performed more than 100 replacement using the Inbone device from Arlington, TN-based Wright Medical Group.

The optimal patient for ankle replacement is approximately 60 years old and of normal weight.  Doctors will consider older patients, depending on their overall health.  Patients with diabetes are not considered good candidates for the surgery because of the risk of complications resulting from poor blood circulation.

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