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Ankle Arthroscopy Fact Sheet

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What is an arthroscopy?

An arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows a physician to examine and treat injuries to the interior of a joint. During an arthroscopy, the physician makes a small incision in the skin and uses a small, slender fiber-optic camera to directly view the inner aspects of the damaged joint. Specially designed hand instruments such as motorized burrs and shavers can be inserted into the joint, allowing operations to be performed through these small incisions.

While this minimally invasive approach is most frequently used on the knee and shoulder, arthroscopic procedures for smaller joints, such as the ankle and wrist, are becoming more common. Arthroscopic surgery is preferred over more traditional open surgery to treat certain ankle conditions. It has many advantages over traditional open ankle surgery, including excellent visualization of the joint for the surgeons and much smaller incisions, decreased pain and shorter recovery times for the patient.

Who is a candidate for an ankle arthroscopy?

The ankle is subject to considerable stresses, especially in young, athletic individuals. A prime candidate for ankle arthroscopy is a patient with a bone cartilage defect of the anklebone, also known as the talus. A defect can be present at birth, develop over time, or be the result of a trauma such as a severe ankle sprain.

Additionally, if the patient has chronic, severe ankle pain that is still undiagnosed, he or she could be a candidate for an ankle arthroscopy.

When is an ankle arthroscopy a treatment option?

In a severe ankle sprain, the edge of the joint surface of the talus may impact surrounding bones, causing small fractures and resulting in damage to the cartilage and the underlying bone. This injury causes significant pain and swelling. In this type of injury, a segment of the smooth joint surface is damaged, similar to a pothole in the road. The defect is often difficult to access with traditional surgery, which is why arthroscopic intervention may be a better approach. Since the lesion largely involves the joint lining, X-rays will often fail to detect it. An MRI may be necessary to determine the proper diagnosis. An MRI can distinguish the size, depth and location of the injury.

An arthroscopy allows a surgeon to inspect the joint surface, remove the damaged fragments and drill the underlying bone. Drilling small channels in the bottom of the lesion allows bone marrow elements from the center of the talus to fill the "pothole" and form a new joint surface. Other types of arthroscopic procedures can be performed, including soft-tissue debridement, painful spur removal, ligament repair and joint fusion.

Of course, not all ankle problems can be addressed with these methods, especially advanced arthritis and most ankle fractures.

Ankle arthroscopy at UK HealthCare

Arthroscopic procedures in the ankle can be technically challenging because of the size and configuration of the curved joint surface. Since ankle arthroscopy is a relatively new procedure, sports medicine and foot and ankle orthopaedic specialists are usually most experienced in this technique.

UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine specializes in ankle arthroscopy. To make an appointment for consultation, call 1-800-333-8874.

For more information:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 

Arthroscopy Association of North America 

UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine 


Page last updated: 10/17/2013 12:46:53 PM