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Your Healthy Family: Ankle replacement returns patient to very active lifestyle

Posted at 8:40 AM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 10:40:48-05

BALTIMORE, MD — If you know anyone who suffers from chronic pain, you know it can affect just about every aspect of their life, but ankle replacement surgery turned things around for a woman determined to keep moving.

Five years ago, Tina Burd could not have ridden a bike without excruciating pain. Burd, a 60-year-old nurse and fitness instructor, had severe osteoarthritis in her left ankle.

"It was bone-on-bone starting in my early 30s," Burd said.

Burd said the pain level was always a 10-plus. Every decision was based on how her ankle felt that day.

"Anytime you put your foot down to walk, the bones were grinding together," Burd said.

She used devices in order to try to keep functioning, including boots and braces, and that's not all.

"I did steroid injections, I used acupuncture, I used reflexology, massage therapy and good old ice and rest," Burd said.

But nothing got rid of the pain. She looked into ankle replacement at the time but said the technology wasn't as good as it is now. She was told to wait until she was older. Five years ago, she finally had her left ankle replaced.

Dr. Lew Schon, M.D., FACS, is Director of Orthopedic Innovation at The Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. He is an internationally recognized foot and ankle surgeon with more than 35 years’ experience in medicine and patient care.

Dr. Schon says, "Our experience with the Zimmer ankle replacement has been that we can handle more complicated challenges with better results," Schon said.

Schon co-invented the Zimmer ankle replacement used in Burd's surgery. What's the difference between the new replacement models and the old ones?

Dr. Schon explains, "We've changed the shape, the size and the way the implant is put into the bone," Schon said. "Instead of going in from the front to put it in, we go in from the side, and by going through the side, we're able to correct pretty much (any) extreme deformities. We've also changed the materials."

That includes the type of plastic used on the part of the artificial ankle that gets the most wear and tear.

Burd is back to yoga, Pilates and spin classes at a level, she says she didn't think was possible. "The main thing that changes your life - is you can walk. I don't have to think about how far away I parked the car," Burd said. "If I want to go walk 5 miles, I can walk 5 miles. If I want to hike, take the dogs to the park, I can do that," Burd said.

There are some restrictions: no running or jumping on it. Still, she says she doesn't feel limited. "If I had this option sooner in my life, I absolutely would have done it," Burd said

Dr. Schon said running and jumping are restricted because they can lead to the ankle wearing out faster. As far as recovery, patients are standing at about 10 days, and are up and walking, in a boot, at about six weeks.