A foot elevation pillow is an essential part of recovering from any type of ankle surgery. Elevating your foot on a foot elevation wedge will help control swelling and promote tissue healing. This means you can get back to doing the things you love, as soon as possible!
Phases of healing after ankle surgery
After ankle surgery, your body will go through several natural healing phases. Understanding these healing phases helps you understand why a foot wedge pillow can help your recovery.
Immediately after ankle surgery you experience an initial “hemostasis” period. This is where the body works to stop bleeding that has occurred from the trauma of the surgery. The body does this by activating clotting agents called platelets. These platelets create a wound bed that provides a solid foundation for the subsequent healing stages.
A foot elevation wedge becomes very important in the next phase which is called the inflammation phase. The inflammation phase lasts several days. Its job is to bring cells to the surgery site and initiate the rebuilding process.
A foot elevation wedge is also beneficial during this next phase called the proliferation phase. The proliferation phase of healing overlaps with the inflammation stage. During proliferation, the body begins rebuilding its tissues.
The final phase of healing is called the remodeling phase. This is where the tissue that was rebuilt in the proliferation phase continues to develop and mature. Throughout this phase your ankle tissue will continue to build and re-organize until it is fully healed.
Tips to optimize healing
There are several things you can do to optimize this healing process. First, follow the incision care protocol your physician gives you. When you follow their protocol, it maximizes the actual incision site healing. Excessive scarring and infection may result if incision care is not done correctly.
Second, follow your doctor’s precautions when it comes to weight-bearing. Depending on the surgery, your body may need to gradually adapt to your body weight. It may be necessary to get into weight bearing slowly in order for the tissues and/or hardware to properly heal. You can delay healing and disrupt the natural progression of the healing steps if you overload your ankle too soon.
Third, the management of swelling and inflammation in the ankle is absolutely essential. This is where a foot elevation pillow comes in. Using a foot elevation wedge to manage swelling ensures that the inflammation phase does not last too long. If the inflammation phase lasts too long, it can slow down and delay the proliferation and remodeling phases. A delay in these phases can delay healing.
Managing swelling and inflammation is one of the hardest parts of recovering from ankle surgery. This is because people spend most of their time standing or sitting. When you stand or sit, gravity can “pool” swelling into your foot and ankle.
If an ankle gets too much swelling, it can create ischemia, also known as decreased blood flow. This is because excessive swelling can increase pressure on the veins of the foot and lower leg. The increase in pressure can decrease blood flow to your foot.
Using a foot elevation pillow to combat swelling
An excellent way to control excessive swelling is to use a wedge pillow to elevate your feet. You can use a foot elevation pillow when you sit up in bed or when lying flat. Elevating your feet uses gravity to help some of your swelling re-circulate.
Elevating your feet also helps improve blood flow. To further enhance blood flow, try performing ankle pumps or other non-weight-bearing ankle exercises while you elevate (if appropriate and prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist). This will heighten the effect of your foot wedge pillow.
The most ideal foot elevation wedge has three important characteristics.
- Length that allows your heel to hang off the edge of the pillow
- Contours that allow for even weight distribution
- Positions your ankle higher than your knee and hips to allow for gravity to assist in decreasing swelling
Elevating your ankle on a contoured wedge pillow for 15-20 minutes, several times a day, is a good way to enhance your healing process. If you have had or are going to have an ankle surgery, optimize your healing with a foot elevation pillow!
-Bryan Blare, Doctor of Physical Therapy