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Published on October 11, 2016

Take care of your ankles

Trying to maximize your steps each day to reach the enviable 10,000 mark is great for your health. Yet, for some, all those strides may also lead to foot and ankle problems.

By Amy Northrop, Lawrence Memorial Hospital

Trying to maximize your steps each day to reach the enviable 10,000 mark is great for your health. Yet, for some, all those strides may also lead to foot and ankle problems. When you add in other foot and ankle pounding activities like running and jumping, it may literally become difficult to stand on your own two feet (and ankles).

Jennifer Waterman, MD

Jennifer Waterman MD

Meet Dr. Waterman

Dr. Jennifer Waterman recently joined OrthoKansas in Lawrence. She attended Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Virginia before completing her residency in orthopedic surgery at Holston Valley Medical Center in Tennessee. She recently completed a foot and ankle fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, and previously served as Chief Resident of the Wellmont Orthopedic Residency program and as a flight surgeon for the United States Air Force. Waterman specializes in foot and ankle treatment.

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“Your ankle is one of the toughest joints in your body,” said Dr. Jennifer Waterman, an orthopedic surgeon, who specializes in foot and ankle care. “But injury, rheumatoid arthritis, or even old-fashioned wear and tear (also known as osteoarthritis) can cause that joint to weaken, and motion to become stiff and painful.”

According to Waterman, who practices locally at OrthoKansas, ankle arthritis develops most often due to a traumatic injury to the area — a bad sprain, torn ligaments, or, worse, an ankle break. Even if the injury received proper medical care at the time, the resulting damaged area is seven times more likely to become arthritic in the future than an uninjured joint.

Time frames and severity can differ for every person, so talking with a member of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, like Waterman, provides each patient with an in-depth analysis of the root cause of the pain and a tailored treatment option to fit your needs and activity level.

“I recommend conservative treatments first for anyone experiencing ankle arthritis,” said Waterman. “Adjusting movements to lessen pain, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, injections, bracing, and even shoe modifications, can help many patients maximize their daily activities and minimize pain. However, when that achy, throbbing ankle starts affecting daily life, there are surgical options that may help too.”

An ankle fusion is the most customary treatment for severe ankle arthritis. The bones of the joint are fused together to make one continuous bone, and held in place by plates and screws to fix the joint in a permanent position. Recovery takes up to three months.

The surgery is generally very successful in decreasing pain and improving function. However, there may be some limited movement up and down by the ankle, resulting in a ‘stiffer’ ankle feeling. Full recuperation takes around six to nine months.

An ankle replacement procedure inserts an artificial ankle joint in place of the damaged one. Most implants are custom designed and fitted to your foot and ankle specifications. Unfortunately, the life cycle of the artificial joint is variable by patient, and complications after surgery can be difficult to address. Therefore, ankle replacement surgery is best for persons over 60 years of age. Recovery also takes about six to nine months.

“The patient plays a key role in any treatment method — conservative, fusion or joint replacement,” said Waterman. “Talking with an orthopedic specialist as early as possible can help control pain and reduce damage to joints. Likewise, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight can also minimize limitations and help a person to continue to lead a productive, active lifestyle.”

Lawrence Memorial Hospital offers comprehensive care for those experiencing ankle arthritis. LMH provides general health and wellness programs to maintain a healthy weight, physical therapy options to reduce pain and strengthen the ankle joint, and, finally, surgical treatment when conservative methods are not successful. To view a list of orthopedic surgeons who choose LMH, visit www.lmh.org/orthopedics.

Waterman will be the featured speaker at this month’s Senior Supper and Seminar at LMH. She will present “All About Ankle Arthritis” at a free seminar at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18. Seniors are invited to the supper at 5 p.m., for which there is a $5.50 fee for a healthy three-course meal. Reservations for the meal and seminar are required, due to limited seating. Call LMH ConnectCare at 785-505-5800 or send an email to connectcare@lmh.org to reserve space.

—Amy Northrop is physician liaison manager at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a major sponsor of WellCommons. She can be reached at amy.northrop@lmh.org.

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