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Injuries and Medical Advice

Knee Tendonitis after Ankle Fusion

A pain in the knee!

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I had a very bad bouldering accident in February 2008 and suffered a compound fracture and total dislocation (bone sticking out) of the ankle. After eight surgeries and almost two years on crutches I am climbing a lot better than I am walking! I have no range of motion in the ankle joint, no cartilage at all, and severe osteo-arthritis (which I put up with; I’m drug free). But the stiff ankle has led to severe tendonitis in the knees. Do you think I could still climb with an ankle fusion? And do you think the twisting and drop-knee moves are going to lead to the ultimate death of my knees as well?

—Jenny Zhuang, Hong Kong, China

I’d rather lose a testicle than be in your shoes.

Yes, you can still climb. That’s the short answer. I know several climbers who have a fused ankle. They boulder and climb quite well, actually.

[Also Read Gear Guy: Should You Clip The Belay As Your First Lead Pro?]

There are almost no down sides to having a fusion since, in functional terms, your ankle has pretty much fused already. The up side to a fusion is that
you will only have a mild gait anomaly and you can remove the leather patches from your pants since you will be crawling a lot less. And your ankle
pain will be vastly reduced. When your gait normalizes somewhat, the tendon issues will also largely resolve.

I am pretty sure a fusion will make you feel much closer to your old self. Hanging onto an ankle that doesn’t work is ironically making you feel much older.
The knee and hip on that side will certainly suffer some increased wear and tear, but likely much less than in the current situation.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice 198 (December 2011).