This is a guide for patients to participate in their foot and ankle surgical treatment. Patients achieve the best results when they work with their surgeon to prepare for their surgery and post-surgical recovery. Part III will focus on what to do in the days immediately after your surgery.
What kinds of symptoms are expected after surgery?
Surgery can be a big stress to the body, so it is normal for patients to experience after surgery:
- Pain. This is worst in the first few days after surgery. As time passes and the body starts to heal, post-surgical pain lessens.
- Swelling of the surgical foot and/or ankle
- Bruising and discoloration of the surgical foot and/or ankle. Normal skin colors after surgery includes blue, red, pink, purple and brown. Skin colors that may be a sign of problems with circulation are pale white and dark black, which the surgeon must know about immediately.
- Blood or fluid leakage from the surgical foot/ankle incisions. This tends to occur when one’s foot swells after surgery.
- Low-grade fevers (less than or equal to 100.5 degrees) during the first week after surgery. Low-grade fevers that last after one week or those that are above 100.5 degrees at any time after surgery may not be normal. The surgeon should know about this immediately.
What modifications or accommodations are needed at home after surgery?
After foot or ankle surgery, many patients will have restrictions placed on their operated foot or ankle and overall activity level. Due to this change in their activity level, many patients will have to make adjustments to their daily routine at home. While every patient has a different living situation, some things can be done at home to make the post-surgical recovery time easier.
For patients that live alone, it can help for a close friend or relative to stay with them during the first several days after surgery. This friend or relative can help patients get their home organized for doing things around the house after surgery. Whether patients live alone or not, some things that can help knowing after surgery include:
For the entire house, it is best to keep things clean and organized to avoid injury. This includes decreasing clutter, removing loose wires and cords, securing rugs to the floors, and cleaning up spills immediately.
At night, patients should have the lights on as they move through the house. A night-light can be very helpful in certain rooms like the bathroom and bedroom.
For the bathroom, organize common toiletries to be used so that they are in easy reach and not in cabinets or shelves that are either too high or too low.
When bathing, the patient’s surgical leg must be placed outside the bathtub. When showering, patients must keep their
post-surgical dressing and/or splint clean and dry. Covering the surgical leg with a large, snug plastic bag or commercial cast cover can do this. For patients to keep weight off their surgical leg in the shower, they may need to use a shower bench or chair. These devices can be prescribed by the surgeon and purchased from surgical supply stores.
For the bedroom, organize common clothes to be worn so that they are in easy reach. When getting dressed, place the surgical leg into clothes before the non-surgical leg. When getting undressed, place the non-surgical leg out of clothes before the surgical leg. Tight pants and/or socks can be uncomfortable against a patient’s post-surgical dressing and/or splint and should be avoided at this time.
For the kitchen, organize common foods to be eaten so that they are in easy reach. The best types of foods to eat after surgery that help with healing include fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats and dairy items like milk and yogurt. It also helps to drink plenty of water and electrolytes (like in Gatorade) to stay hydrated after surgery. It can also help to prepare meals before surgery and store them in the freezer to be thawed out and eaten after surgery.
When resting, keep the surgical leg iced because this helps to decrease pain after surgery. The ice should be placed in thin, but tight, bag and over a thin sheet which itself will be placed over the patient’s surgical dressing and/or splint. This is done to prevent the patient’s dressing and/or splint from getting soaked from the ice. In a pinch, frozen foods can be used to provide cooling of the patient’s leg instead of ice.
When resting, keep the surgical leg elevated because this helps to decrease pain after surgery. If possible, it is best for
the surgical leg to be positioned above the level of the patient’s heart. This can be done with a few firm pillows placed under the patient’s surgical leg.
When sitting, use firm chairs and place them in every room in the house. While sofas and recliners are good for resting, they are not as supportive for sitting or getting up to stand.
Stairs can be challenging to use after foot or ankle surgery, but handrails can help provide body support. When going upstairs, the nonsurgical leg goes first and the surgical leg follows. When going downstairs, the surgical leg goes first and the nonsurgical leg follows.
Do patients need to take blood-thinning medication after surgery?
The known risk of getting a painful blood clot or DVT in one’s leg after orthopaedic foot or ankle surgery is very low. However, the orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon may instruct their patients to do several things to make the chances of this problem occurring to be even lower. Such actions include:
- Avoiding medicines like hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills, which can increase the risk of getting a blood clot.
- Avoiding nicotine-containing products, which can increase the risk of getting a blood clot.
- Staying relatively active after surgery. While many patients aren’t allowed to place weight on their operated leg after surgery, they can be encouraged to move around the house often. If allowed by the surgeon, some patients may also be allowed to exercise their hips and knees with regular movements and stretching. Staying inactive and/or in bed can increase the risk of getting a blood clot.
When does the orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon next see patients after surgery?
While every orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeon has different instructions, he/she will have patients return to the office between one and three weeks after surgery for this first post-surgical visit. Patients should call the surgeon’s office to schedule this appointment.
Part I: Before Day of Surgery
Part II: The Day of Your Surgery
The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find an Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Surgeon" tool at the top of this page or contact your primary doctor.