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What are the Warning Signs after Ankle Surgery?

If you need to get ankle surgery, you have a lengthy recovery process ahead of you. According to WebMD, it can take up to a year to recover from ankle surgery fully. Most of the healing takes place during the initial few weeks; you can start getting back to your regular activities during weeks 4-6.

Along the way, it is important to watch out for warning signs of nerve damage or other complications. Many recoveries go smoothly, but if there are any issues, catching them early to report to your doctor is key. This post will go over warning signs after ankle surgery of nerve damage and more.

What is Involved in Ankle Surgery?

During ankle surgery, you will receive a nerve block or general anesthesia. The surgeon then takes out damaged bone and cartilage. The next step is to smooth the bone surfaces. Then, the surgeon puts in some metal and plastic parts to replace the parts that were removed. The procedure will be complete within 2 and a half hours in most cases. 

One surgery is complete, a splint will protect your ankle. When it is time for you to start walking on your ankle again, your doctor will take off the splint and replace it with a boot. 

Warning Signs After Ankle Surgery

Now that you understand what ankle surgery entails and how long the recovery process is, we can go over important warning signs after ankle surgery. If you experience any of the warning signs in this post, please contact your doctor right away.

Abstract photo of a surgery room


Severe, Unrelievable Foot Pain

If you have severe foot pain following ankle surgery, and you are not able to alleviate it by elevating your foot, putting ice on your ankle, or taking medication, you need to call your doctor. 

Additionally, if pain worsens days or weeks after surgery, that is a sign to call your doctor. The worst time for your pain should be right after your surgery, after the anesthesia wears off. From that point on, you should gradually be feeling better.


Surgical site infections affect around 2-4% of patients following surgeries. Fever is a common sign of an infection. So, if you develop a fever after ankle surgery, you need to contact your doctor in case your ankle is infected.

Fever thermometer

Calf Swelling and Pain

Some swelling and pain is expected post-surgery. But an abnormal amount of pain and swelling in your calf could indicate the presence of a clot or a deep vein thrombosis. 

While blood clots following surgery are rare, 1 in 100 patients may experience a life-threatening one following a surgical procedure. It is better to be safe than sorry, which is why you should never ignore any possible signs of one. 

Wound Discharge or Signs of Infection

During the first 1-2 days after the surgery, it is normal to see some light discharge. But if the discharge is discolored or has a repugnant odor, that is a sign your ankle is infected. Discharge that increases after it should go away is another warning sign. 

Signs of Nerve Damage after Ankle Surgery

Now that we have gone over some general warning signs to watch out for following an ankle surgery, let’s look specifically at warning signs that point toward potential nerve damage after this type of operation

Worsening Numbness

Directly after your surgery, you can expect some short-lived numbness while the nerve block is still wearing off. But after sensation returns, you should not experience worsening numbness. If you do, that is one possible indication of a nerve issue.

Burning/Shooting Pain

Patients who experience nerve damage after surgeries often report that the pain has a “burning” or “shooting” quality to it. Either of these are indications you should reach out to your medical team.

Worsening Weakness

Some weakness is normal following ankle surgery, but over time, you should be regaining strength, not losing it. Increasing weakness can be a sign of nerve damage.

Persistent Tingling

Unusual tingling sensations that do not go away after surgery can be a classic sign of nerve damage.

Causes of Nerve Damage

Now you know more about the warning signs of nerve damage after ankle surgery. But what actually causes nerves to get damaged during an operation?

There are a few different answers to that question. Sometimes, the nerve itself is damaged during surgery. Other times, the myelin sheath around it is damaged. Scar tissue forming around a nerve may also compress the nerve, another cause of pain and damage. 

How Common is Nerve Damage After Surgery?

According to the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists, research suggests that surgery patients develop permanent nerve damage at a rate of 0.03% to 1.4%. The federation points out that nerve damage after surgeries is often underreported. So, the actual percentage could be higher.

And that is just the statistic for permanent nerve damage. A higher percentage of patients experience temporary nerve damage after surgery. That type of nerve damage gradually goes away as your body has a chance to heal. 

When considering your options for anesthesia, you may also wish to note that peripheral nerve blocks are associated with a high rate of complications.

How the Right Shoes Can Help

If you do develop peripheral neuropathy (damage in your peripheral nerves) following ankle surgery, you may find yourself with some additional complications.

Men walking with Cadense Adaptive Shoes in Slate

The pain of peripheral neuropathy can already be debilitating, but it can also lead to a condition called “foot drop.” When you have foot drop, it is not possible to lift and place your feet naturally. The toes drag as you walk, causing an unnatural gait.

There are exercises for neuropathy and foot drop, both of which can help to improve your condition. 

Something else that can go a long way toward helping you walk comfortably, naturally and safely is the right pair of shoes.

Beautiful Women's Adaptive Shoes in Pink sorrounded by flower leaves

The Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes for men and women are an excellent example of footwear that can transform the way you walk with peripheral neuropathy or foot drop.

Foot drop makes it hard to walk across uneven surfaces or over obstacles, because you cannot always lift your foot enough to clear them or avoid tripping.

But Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes use patented variable friction technology to let you glide over uneven surfaces without incident. 

Other features that make these shoes suitable after ankle surgery include their wide, stable base, comfortable and supportive cushioning, and lightweight, breathable materials. They also offer excellent grip and feature a fashionable design. Many patients continue to wear them long after they have recovered from ankle surgery. 

Take a look at the Cadense collection of shoes for foot drop to find the shoes you need to start returning to an active lifestyle when you are at that point in your healing process


To finish up this post, let’s answer a few frequently asked questions about recovering from ankle surgery. 

How long does it take to recover from ankle surgery?

The initial period for recovery is 2-3 weeks, followed by getting back to your regular activities during weeks 4-6. But it can take up to a full year for recovery to be complete. 

Will my ankle ever be the same after surgery?

Whether your ankle will be similar to how it was before the surgery depends on how severe the injury was that necessitated the surgery. 

Following your doctor’s advice during the healing process can give you your best chance at a full recovery. Reporting any of the warning signs in this article promptly also can help you catch any complications early so you can stay on the path to a smooth and effective recovery. 

How long is bed rest after ankle surgery?

You will spend the first 2-3 days after ankle surgery recovering in the hospital. After that, you are free to go home, but you are advised to get plenty of rest. You will not be able to walk on your ankle right away. Use crutches to get around, and start walking on your ankle only once your doctor says it is okay. Take it slowly at first.

Why is pain worse at night after ankle surgery?

Research shows that pain follows a circadian rhythm, and is often higher at night. Nocturnal increases in inflammation and swelling and a lack of distractions could also increase pain at night after ankle surgery. 

How soon can you walk after ankle surgery?

After your 2-3 days of hospital bed rest, you can begin walking using crutches. But it will not be until week 6 that the splint will be replaced with a boot, and you can begin putting weight on your ankle and walking on both feet. 

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