Foot surgery often entails the implantation of plates, screws, pins or anchors to maintain the correction or repair damaged tissue or bone. Hardware placed in the body is intended to stay in the body forever. Unfortunately, our bodies do not always cooperate and hardware can become a problem post-operatively. The need for removal of hardware in the foot only applies to around 5% of foot procedures -- this excludes those trauma procedures where removal of implants in required after healing.
Reasons to Remove Retained Hardware:
- Hardware is painful – pain can develop because retained hardware is prominent or loosening and causes irritation to the overlying tendons, nerves or skin.
- Implants have performed their intended goal – in cases where an ankle fracture or foot fracture has been repaired, hardware is placed to provide stability during the healing process. Once healing is completed, screws that cross joints need to be removed to return the patient to normal function.
- Infection – in very rare cases a post-operative infection can occur. If the infection is severe, antibiotics may not be sufficient to cure the condition, and the surgical site may need to be cleaned and hardware removed so it does not harbor infective organisms.
- Planned removal of hardware after healing of fracture complete – original procedure resulted in continued pain and additional surgery is required. Removal of previous implants is often performed to make room for new, more stable fixation.
Recovery from Hardware Removal in the Foot or Ankle
Recovery from a surgery to remove an implant is in the vast majority of cases much shorter than the recovery from initial surgery.
If screws are removed, typically only a small stab incision is required and the patient will wear a protective shoe or walking boot for the first two weeks. Sometimes an athletic shoe can be worn if the incision is in a place where it is not irritated by shoe gear. Once the stitches are removed most people return to normal activity with minimal discomfort.
If larger screws or a plate are removed, a longer period of immobilization in a boot may be required but seldom exceeds a period greater than 4 weeks.
If surgery to remove hardware also includes revision of original surgery you can expect a similar recovery period to the original surgery.
In cases of infection, recovery may require wound care after instruction or a home health agency that will visit your home until healed.
What to Do?
If you had a previous surgery and are experiencing pain, please request an appointment for an evaluation. You do not need to suffer needlessly!