Subtalar Joint Fusion Surgery Eliminates Ankle Pain for Longtime Nurse
A retired nurse, Nancy, 67, had been on her feet and on the go for five decades, and many of her last years in the field were spent suffering from ankle pain that required subtalar joint fusion surgery, a type of ankle fusion.
Putting others’ needs ahead of her own, Nancy opted for working in home care and educating patients versus holding on to a nurse manager role. She knows what it means to patients to receive great care, and she ended up receiving it herself as an IBJI patient who underwent a type of ankle fusion surgery.
“I have very strong standards,” Nancy says. “I’m from the generation 50 years ago where a nurse was a hands-on nurse only, not in meetings and managing. I left a management position with a big salary because being with patients is where I wanted to be.”
Read on to find out how Nancy solved years of ankle pain with help from IBJI.
Subtalar Joint Fusion Surgery to Solve Ankle Pain
All of her protective COVID outerwear, gowns, face shields, goggles, double masking, and more were minor inconveniences while working as a nurse compared to her agonizing ankle pain requiring a subtalar joint fusion surgery. Nancy didn’t know that her long walking route of home care visits in the city of Chicago was worsening her symptoms, but all of that changed with subtalar joint fusion surgery, which completely solved her ankle pain.
“I would see a group of patients all on the same day,” Nancy says. “I hiked a lot through the city on a completely torn ligament that I was unaware of. I’m sure that the instability of the ankle led to this.”
She says she was glad to finally find out that subtalar joint fusion surgery was the solution to her problem after meeting with IBJI Orthopedic Surgeon Alan C. League, MD.
Surgeries Before Subtalar Joint Fusion
Nancy had been to a few other doctors before seeing Dr. League at IBJI. She says she suffered for several years with ankle pain.
“I couldn’t stand sheets touching my ankle, and I had great trouble going up and down the stairs,” Nancy recalls. “When I would lift my foot off the step, I would have terrible pain.”
An initial surgery with a non-IBJI surgeon in 2018 involved relocating a nerve. “That took care of the sensation pain, but not the major ankle pain,” Nancy says.
Then in 2020, she had corrective surgery to address a torn ligament but this was prior to having subtalar joint fusion surgery. “Again, that was repaired and it restored the ligament, but it didn’t take away the pain,” she says. “I kind of thought this was just going to be the way it was.”
The ankle pain that led to subtalar joint fusion surgery grew worse in the spring of 2021 when she and her sisters – who often go on weekend trips together – were walking and shopping but Nancy couldn’t seem to keep up.
Extreme Pain Before Undergoing Ankle Fusion Surgery
Back at home, she realized that her dog’s mobility was suffering because of her limitations. Just before finding Dr. League and undergoing subtalar joint fusion surgery, Nancy’s pain had peaked. She couldn’t even walk her dog around the block.
“I’d have to stop and hold my ankle up,” Nancy recalls. “It was ridiculous for one block.”
She was very discouraged that after her surgeries and getting fitted for various boots, she was still suffering from ankle pain, so she is glad she decided to have subtalar joint fusion surgery.
“I had a collection of boots, and I spent a lot of time being nonambulatory,” she said. “Even when I was working after the first surgery, I could only work in the office, but staying in the office didn’t help the pain.”
What Led Nancy to IBJI Care for Ankle Pain
Nancy decided to find another doctor who might be able to take a fresh look at her ankle pain. She conducted an online search to find solutions to her ankle pain, which ultimately led to her finding the surgeon who would perform the subtalar joint fusion surgery she needed.
Not knowing anything about IBJI, she searched online for “top ankle surgeons” and Dr. League’s name came up.
“I liked what I saw so I made an appointment,” Nancy says.
It was then that she learned about Dr. League’s solution: subtalar joint fusion surgery, which he performed in June of 2021.
“He was very pleasant and very direct,” Nancy says. “ He tells it like it is and sometimes you need to hear that.”
Nancy felt that the standing MRI, a relatively new procedure, led to discovering the real problem that was causing her pain. “It showed Dr. League what needed to be done,” she said.
What Exactly Is Subtalar Joint Fusion Surgery?
Dr. League discussed the type of surgery he would perform on Nancy’s ankle. “It was clear what was wrong and what the right treatment was,” Dr. League said.
To clarify, subtalar joint fusion surgery is different from a typical ankle fusion surgery in that it fuses the joint right below the ankle joint – the subtalar joint – to provide stability.
“Nancy had already tried numerous non-surgical treatments, but without any relief,” Dr. League said. “Ultimately I recommended an arthrodesis (fusion) of her severely damaged joint. This type of surgery requires six weeks of non-weight-bearing, which can be very difficult.”
Nancy wasn’t sure what to expect with subtalar joint fusion surgery. Since she had gone through several other procedures in the past, she wasn’t holding out hope that this surgery would completely correct her problem.
She recalled the conversation she had with Dr. League before the subtalar joint fusion. “I said, ‘I’m not expecting a miracle here, but if I come out with 50 percent less pain, I would consider that good.’”
Results of Subtalar Joint Fusion Surgery
After her ankle fusion surgery, Nancy had a fairly long road to recovery, but Dr. League ensured she had what she needed at home to heal and get back to full mobility.
“Nancy was supplied with the appropriate devices, crutches/walker/knee scooter, and she was able to manage quite well,” Dr. League said. “In the end, she healed quite quickly and was walking pain-free in a shoe for the first time in years.”
Recovering After Ankle Surgery
“It was challenging,” Nancy says. The most difficult part for her was trying not to put weight on her ankle. But once she got back to weight-bearing activities after several weeks, her pain was non-existent.
“Fast forward to today, the ankle pain that I went to see him for is completely gone,” Nancy says. “I can walk just fine, and I just actually thought of this recently: I forgot I had ankle surgery! I forgot that there was ever a problem with my ankle.”
No More Medications After Subtalar Joint Fusion Surgery
Before her subtalar joint fusion surgery, Nancy was taking a fairly significant amount of pain medication to address neuropathy in her foot. “I’m totally off that now,” she says, adding that Dr. League wasn’t sure if the pain would fully resolve.
“He said that he would do the best he could to relieve the pain,” she said. “I think he was surprised by the positive outcome.”
Successful Surgeries at IBJI: Shoulder Surgery and Subtalar Joint Fusion
Nancy’s advice to anyone who is on the fence about surgery is to find a doctor and make an appointment. She has had two successful surgeries at IBJI: a procedure for a shoulder injury and the subtalar joint fusion on her left ankle.
“I cannot speak highly enough of Dr. League,” she says. “One of the other surgeries I had was with Richard Hayek at IBJI. My shoulder is now 100 percent. I’ve seen two top surgeons at IBJI.”
Request an Appointment with an IBJI Orthopedic Specialist
Need to see a doctor for your ankle pain? Make an appointment — online or in-person — to learn about treatment options that can get you back to feeling your best.