3D Printing and Total Ankle Replacement – Transforming Patients’ Lives

26 January 2021

Despite a nagging ankle injury from his college days, Jack Quinlan has a pretty good golf game. However, by the summer of 2019 the swelling that had plagued the Delaware resident for decades had become unbearable. He knew something needed to be done – for his own good, if not for his golf score. “I was using my golf club as a cane, just to get around the course,” Quinlan remembers. “[Every now and then] calcium deposits would get into my joints. My ankles and knees would balloon up but after a week the swelling would go away. I thought I’d outlive it, but the pain got so bad that I decided to go to see my doctor.”

His medical team recommended a fusion, but Quinlan wasn’t keen on the procedure or its nearly five-month rehab regimen. Instead, he sought out Premier Orthopaedics foot and ankle surgeon Spencer J. Monaco, DPM, FACFAS, who mainly sees patients in West Chester and Kennett Square, and specializes in total ankle replacement. Most of us know that hips, knees and shoulders can be replaced – but ankles? We'd be hard-pressed to include them in this category. Dr. Monaco says that education can help bring awareness to ankle arthritis, and the good news is something can be done about it. “Painful ankle arthritis continues to rise in both young individuals as well as the active aging population,” he says.

Ankle arthritis most commonly develops from a previous injury that can eventually interfere with day-to-day activities due to pain, swelling and instability. This may explain the downward trend in Quinlan’s golf score.

Orthopaedic surgeons have used 3D printing technology in tandem with certain surgical procedures for nearly a decade. Specially trained doctors work with a third-party manufacturer to print custom artificial bones precisely made to the patient’s measurements. Used in total ankle replacement, the artificial joints produce excellent patient outcomes, preserve range-of-motion and offer significant pain relief.

“This specialized surgery is not for everyone with ankle pain; however, it may be an excellent option for those who have persistent pain with end-stage ankle degenerative joint disease,” Dr. Monaco says.

Quinlan had the procedure, and although his pain took about nine days after the surgery to resolve, he says that knowing what to expect helped him prepare. And Dr. Monaco’s bedside manner was calming and reassuring throughout the entire process. “He spent 45 minutes answering my questions, showed me the printed piece and said 'this is going to be your new ankle.’ I walked out of the office saying 'Thank God I got this guy.’ He exuded confidence and has a good personality. I felt very comfortable in his care,” Quinlan says.

Physical therapy is an important part of recovery from any form of joint replacement surgery, and ankle replacement therapy typically lasts 4-6 weeks post-op. Quinlan noticed considerable improvement after completing physical therapy and is happily back in the swing of life – metaphorically speaking.

“As treatment options for ankle arthritis continue to improve, so does the technology used to treat it,” Dr. Monaco says. “Advancements in total ankle replacement, such as 3D-printed instrumentation, continue to improve the overall quality of care surgeons can provide their patients.” Quinlan says he’d recommend the procedure to anyone qualifying for it. “Your life isn’t over when you get older,” he says. “Keep moving.”

To find a Premier Orthopaedics specialist skilled in foot and ankle arthritis, call 1-855-ORTHO24 (1-855-678-4624) or fill out a secure online appointment form.