I swear I’m not a hypochondriac, nor addicted to surgery. But three months after having surgery to remove a bone spur called a “metacarpal boss” on my right hand, I followed it up with having surgery to remove bone spurs called anterior ankle impingement syndrome on my right ankle. Weird, huh?
As I did with my hand surgery, I thought I’d describe a little about my ankle surgery, for the curious and so people who find this post via Google can have some idea of what to expect.
To begin at the beginning: Around 2008, I first started getting pain on the top of my foot, right by the ankle. This was about after I ran the New Jersey Marathon; at first I thought it was related to that, and then I figured it was related to Bikram yoga, which I was just getting into.
I saw a podiatrist who prescribed me with orthotics, but they didn’t seem to do much good. I took it easy on the running and eventually it seemed like my foot was fine.
I can’t really remember if the pain popped up again in 2009, but I know in early 2010 it popped up again. It would just hurt to run or have my ankle in plantarflexion (toes pointed downward, like when you step on the gas). Sitting on my ankle in yoga class was a little painful, and I couldn’t even anchor my feet while doing situps because the right one was too sore. On the worst days it even hurt to walk more than a few blocks. I got an X-ray from my primary care physician, thinking it might have been a stress fracture, but that wasn’t it.
This time I was determined to get well, so I stopped running for a month to let myself heal. I had twisted my ankle while running a few months before, so I thought it was maybe related to that. (Although this bout of soreness didn’t start until a few months after I sprained it).
I got into SoulCycle, spinning at New York Sports Club and using a rowing machine. I also got a Strassburg sock to try to stretch out my foot as I slept. Eventually I started running again and it seemed like all was well.
But no — in yoga class in the summer 2011, I felt a twinge and it seemed like I had tweaked it. Sure enough I was sore for a few weeks after that, including walking. I could go for a run okay, but then would be limping for hours after that.
It seemed ridiculous I had had this problem for so long. While googling I came across a description of anterior ankle impingement syndrome: Limited range of motion in the ankle. Check. The ankle may feel weak, “like it can’t be trusted to hold steady during routine activities.” Check. Common in distance runners; there may be a history of twisting ankle injuries. Check.
This must be what I had! I posted a note on Facebook to ask if anyone had any experience with this; no one responded but someone recommended a foot doctor he said was good. I saw the doc, announcing to him that I was sure as my diagnosis. “Well, all right then,” he joked, making as if to leave. But after he took an X-ray he had to agree with me — I was right! He advised against surgery, though, saying that there were a lot of different tendons in the foot and surgery could be “messy.” Instead he recommended a just general physical therapy and treatment with some ultrasound device.
I did that, and it seemed like it made it better — but a chance conversation with a ballet dancer after my yoga class made me think more about surgery. She had had THREE ankle impingement surgeries — posterior ankle impingement is fairly common in ballet dancers, who dance en pointe — and described it as not so bad.
The surgeon she recommended didn’t take my insurance (Aetna), unfortunately, but after calling around I was able to find one who did — Dr. Kenneth Mroczek of NYU Langone. I was able to get my X-ray so I had it to give to Dr. Mroczek at my initial appointment… he said I should get an MRI, which took more time to arrange, but I eventually got it done. Here are one of the six series of very sharp images it produced:
The MRI revealed I had arthritis in my ankle, which meant there was a slight probability the surgery would actually make things worse, Dr. Mroczek told me. But he said chances were I’d see improvements. So Jan. 9, I had the operation. And … it wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I did need someone to help me out of the hospital afterwards (thanks, K.D.!)
And I didn’t really leave my apartment for about 50 hours afterward, except to get my mail. But after having the surgery Monday morning I did feel good enough to go to the movies Wednesday night. We got crutches at a drugstore ($44, not much cheaper than the $50 hospital would have charged us), but I hardly used them. Just really for getting my mail Tuesday. It wasn’t like a sprain where I couldn’t put weight on my ankle… I could, it was just swollen and sore. Very swollen! As you can see.
I did my best to keep it elevated and ice it. The pain was not so bad, especially compared to my hand surgery. Actually what hurt worse was at the injection site from my anesthesia… I had the opportunity to choose either general anesthesia or a spinal block, which I guess is kinda like an epidural. I chose the latter, but jeez the base of my spine ached for a few days afterwards. And it was sorta hard to pee (Both common side effects). But I guess with general anesthesia you have to have a tube down your throat, which can make it sore, so maybe it’s a question of picking your poison.
Four days after my surgery (the Thursday) I went back to my doctor … the nurse was a little surprised I had taken the wrap off my foot myself, so maybe I shouldn’t have done that. He told me the surgery was a success and he had cleared out the bone spurs as well as removed a loose piece of bone the size of a Tic-Tac in my ankle. Yikes.
They gave me a lace-up ankle brace (like this one) to wear, which wasn’t so bad, offering support and helping to keep the swelling down. I could walk on it okay, maybe with a bit of a limp. I went back to work on the Friday, but could have gone earlier. And a week and a half after the surgery I did Bikram yoga — it went okay, although the ankle was definitely tender and not very very strong. Fifteen days after my surgery I even tried to run on it, in the brace.
I got about a mile and a half…but decided maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. But this weekend — nearly three weeks post-surgery — I ran about four miles both Saturday and Sunday, without the brace, and it seemed fine. My ankle was tender, but okay. I will see Dr. Mroczek again on Tuesday to get the stitches out. So far it is too early to say whether the surgery will have made my ankle better — but it hasn’t been an awful ordeal, either.