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What to Expect if You’re Having Foot and Ankle Surgery

At MedStar Orthopedic Institute, we believe great care starts with helping you know what to expect if you need foot and ankle surgery. Our compassionate team of foot and ankle doctors, surgeons, and nurses will be with you every step of your journey so you can feel comfortable and confident when the day of your surgery arrives.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist, please call:


What to Expect Before Foot and Ankle Surgery

If you need surgery, our surgical scheduler will contact you to arrange the date, time, and location for your procedure.

In the days leading up to your surgery, there are a few things you can do to prepare. Click each item to learn more.

Let your surgical team and preoperative team know if you are currently taking any blood thinners, including Coumadin, Plavix, Xarelto, aspirin, and any others.

Typically, you do not have to stay at the hospital overnight after surgery. Please make arrangements for a responsible adult to drive you to and from the hospital.

Before surgery, you will have many opportunities to discuss any questions or concerns with your care team. You may want to ask the following:

  • What should I do to prepare the day before my surgery?
  • What kind of anesthesia will I need?
  • What will my recovery look like?
  • Will I need crutches, a knee scooter, or a walker?
  • How will I control my pain?
  • How long will it take before I can bear weight on my foot?
  • When can I drive again?
  • How will I keep my bandages dry in the shower?

Your care team will give you specific instructions about what you can eat or drink, or what medication you should or should not take before your surgery. In general, plan to refrain from eating or drinking after midnight prior to your surgery day.

It is a good idea to plan ahead for a safe return home after surgery. You may want to consider and prepare for the following:

  • How you will get in and out of your house after surgery
  • Where there are stairs and how you will navigate them
  • How you will bathe or shower

What to Expect on the Day of Foot and Ankle Surgery

After your surgery is scheduled, your care team will give you specific instructions about where, when, and how you will check-in for your procedure.

As you get ready for your procedure, we recommend the following:

We recommend wearing loose, comfortable clothing that will fit easily over any bandages after your surgery. You should also leave all your valuables at home, including jewelry.

It is a good idea to bring the following with you to the hospital:

  • Driver’s license or other form of identification
  • Insurance and prescription cards
  • List of current medications
  • Rubber-soled shoes with good traction
  • A family member or friend who can drive you home
Report to the hospital or outpatient center at your scheduled arrival time. Upon arrival, proceed directly to registration, where you will meet with a registrar to get checked in.

Once you are registered, you will meet with your doctor, anesthesiologist, and nurses in the preoperative area. They will help you get ready to move into the operating room where one of our experienced foot and ankle surgeons will perform your procedure.

What to Expect After Foot and Ankle Surgery

What happens after your surgery will vary depending upon your specific case and procedure. In general, here’s what you can expect:

Following surgery, your foot and ankle surgeon will apply a bulky plaster splint to your ankle until your stitches are removed in two weeks. Keep the splint dry. Do not remove the splint. Do not walk on the splint.

It is common for there to be some blood draining through the bandage.

After anesthesia, you may feel drowsy for up to 8 hours.

Although unusual, you may experience both after anesthesia in surgery. Your doctor may prescribe Zofran to help minimize any nausea.

You can expect some swelling around your foot and ankle for about 9 to 12 months after surgery. It is important to elevate your foot to decrease the swelling. Sometimes, swelling can result in a numbing feeling in your foot.

After surgery, you will recover in the post anesthesia care unit or an orthopedic recovery room until you are allowed to leave with a responsible caregiver. Depending on your procedure, you may be able to go home on the same day of your surgery. In other cases, you may be required to stay overnight.

Recovering from Foot and Ankle Surgery

Before you are discharged from our foot and ankle center after surgery, your care team will give you specific instructions for recovering at home. Your recovery time will vary depending on the complexity of your surgery and condition.

Here are a few things you can expect as you recover from surgery.

After surgery, you should avoid walking on your foot for at least six weeks. Instead, you may use crutches, knee scooters, and/or wheelchairs to move around. It is important to rest and elevate the operated foot and ankle as much as possible over the next few weeks.After your care team has cleared you for walking, you may begin to bear weight in a walking boot. You should still avoid strenuous activity, such as running or sports involving cutting for at least three months.

At your first postoperative visit, your bandage and splint may be removed for the first time. Please call your doctor to make an appointment for 10-14 days after surgery, unless otherwise indicated.

If you have mild pain, you may take 1-2 tablets of Tylenol every 4 to 6 hours, as needed. Do not take more than 8 tablets in a 24-hour period.For severe pain, your care team may have prescribed you a stronger medication. Take the medication as directed. Do not drink alcohol while taking a prescribed medication.

Prior to your first follow-up appointment, do not get the bandages wet. It is important to keep your incisions as dry as possible, so do not soak or submerge your foot in the tub. Your care team may recommend special equipment to help you safely bathe, including using one or more of the following:

  • Plastic foot and ankle protector
  • Safety grab bars
  • Shower bench or chair
  • Sponge bath
  • Tub bench

As with any surgery, it is important to be aware of signs of infection. These may include unusual characteristics around your incision, including:

  • Foul smell
  • Greenish or yellowish discharge
  • Redness
  • If you have a fever above 101.5 degrees, call your doctor.

In addition to infection, you may also be at risk of developing a blood clot. While unlikely, if you experience swelling or severe pain in the calf of the leg affected by surgery, contact your doctor immediately. If this occurs at night or over the weekend, please go to the closest emergency room for an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot.

After your splint and sutures are removed, you may need to begin physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in your foot and ankle. Physical therapy may last for at least six weeks. Your foot and ankle doctor will provide instructions on the type, frequency, and duration of your foot and ankle physical therapy.