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Post-Operative Foot & Ankle Helpful Hints

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Written by: Eric P. Anctil, MD and Matthew W. Byers, PA-C

You just had surgery on either your foot or ankle, or possibly both. These are some helpful hints, from Tucson Orthopaedic Institute's foot doctors, to best manage your pain, swelling and discomfort after the procedure. Any procedure is a big procedure, so please do all that you can to take the best care of yourself after the surgery, and thus ensure the best possible outcome after your surgery.


1. Pain Management
  • Begin taking prescription pain medications given to you the same day of your surgery, BEFORE you go to bed.
  • If you had a nerve block performed, there is a good chance that you will feel fine before going to bed. However, there is also a good chance the nerve block will wear off while sleeping, so start taking the prescription medications before you go to bed.
  • The pain will be better controlled if you start to treat it (i.e. taking prescription medications) before it begins, instead of trying to manage the pain after it has started.

2. Swelling Management
  • Swelling after surgery can significantly contribute to post-operative pain, especially with foot and ankle surgery.
  • By elevating the foot and ankle as often as you can for the first several weeks after surgery, the swelling can be greatly reduced, and the painful symptoms can be improved, significantly.
  • When elevating, elevate the affected foot and ankle above the level of the hip:


Ideal (Foot/Ankle higher than hip)
Elevate Foot/Ankle HIGHER than hip - Ideal

Not Okay (Foot/Ankle level with hip)   Not Okay (Foot/Ankle lower than hip)

Elevate Foot/Ankle LEVEL with hip - Not Okay   Elevate Foot/Ankle LOWER than hip - Not Okay

3. Ice/Ice Packs/Etc.
  • Ice is also a good adjunct to help with pain and swelling.
  • If the discharge information you received from the surgery center mentions it is okay for you to ice the area of your surgery, then do so for 15 minutes every 1 to 2 hours. Frozen bags of vegetables also work well for this.
  • If the discharge information does not say it is okay for you to ice, then please do not do so. This may be the case if you had surgery on your toes. In this case, only keep your foot elevated as mentioned above, and avoid placing any ice/ice packs/etc. onto the area.

4. Nausea
  • You may have also been given a prescription medication for nausea (i.e. phenergan 12.5 mg)
  • Nausea is common after surgery. Nausea can also occur with the prescription pain medications you were prescribed, as many of them have a tendency to slow down how quickly things move through the stomach and intestines.
  • Many patients may not need this medication, but if you are prone to nausea, it is also a good idea to take this prescription medication the night of your surgery, before you go to bed.

5. Long-term symptom management and expectations
  • It is very common for the toes/foot/ankle to remain somewhat swollen for several months after surgery. Typically, this process will gradually improve over the course of an entire 12 months! So, if you do continue to have some swelling even 3 to 6 months after your surgery, there is still a good 6 to 9 months of time where this will improve. Don't be discouraged. Instead, continue to keep the foot elevated as mentioned in #2, above, as often as you can.
  • As you make progress form your day of surgery, the amount of weight-bearing you will be allowed to do will change. As this weight-bearing increases, there will very likely be an increase in the amount of swelling and discomfort you have with the surgical side. To best control the discomfort and swelling, do any of the following, or a combination of the following:
    1. Place less weight on the surgical side.
    2. Spend less time, over the course of the day, placing weight on the surgical side.
    3. When you are not weight-bearing, continue to keep the extremity elevated as mentioned above.
    4. Apply ice to the affected area as mentioned above. 

**Important Note: DO NOT initiate weight-bearing until you have been instructed to do so.

To learn more about this article, or to make an appointment with a Tucson Orthopaedic doctor or specialist, please contact the East office or click here to return to the article library.