Ankle Arthritis

Ankle Arthritis – Everything You Need To Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

The patient will have longstanding global pain that is inside the ankle.  The patient will have antalgic gait with swelling of the ankle and decreased ankle motion.  You want to check the sensation.  Lack of sensation with Simmons–Weinstein 5.07 monofilament testing is important because insensate patients are poor candidates for ankle joint replacement.  The patient will usually have a trial of nonsurgical treatment first.

  •          Anti-inflammatory medication
  •         Activity modification
  •         Ankle orthosis/bracing
  •          Injections

Treatment Orthosis

·       Single rocker sole shoe modification and custom Arizona brace.  You may give the patient a cane.

With failed conservative treatment, the patient may need arthrodesis of the ankle, which is fusion of the ankle, or an ankle replacement.  If you are going to do arthrodesis of the ankle, it will be arthrodesis of the tibiotalar joint.  In ankle arthrodesis, the fixation can be done by multiple techniques.  The whole idea is to obtain rigid fixation.  You can use plates, screws, or combination of both.

How to you position arthrodesis?

·         Neutral flexion

·         The gastroc recession or TAL may be needed if we cannot achieve neutral dorsiflexion.  From 0–5 hindfoot valgus when 5–10 external rotation of the foot.


·         80% will have difficulty on even ground.

·         75% will have difficulty with stairs.

If you find a person with an ankle fusion that when they walk, they have knee hyperextension when the heel comes off the ground during the stance phase, then that person’s ankle is fused and some plantar flexion.  The plantar flexion position will create forced recurvatum of the knee.  The ankle should be fused in neutral flexion.  If the person has arthritis of the ankle joint and the subtalar joint, then you will do tibiocalcaneal arthrodesis.  Some people elect to go for total ankle replacement.

What are the contraindications for total ankle replacement?

  •  Severe deformity
  • Charcot joint
  • Avascular necrosis of the talus
  • Soft tissue compromise
  • Active ankle infection

What is the relative contraindication for ankle joint replacement?

  • Ligament instability
  • Diabetes
  •  Smoking
  •  Osteoporosis
  • Morbid obesity

When do you do distraction arthroplasty?

            You do this in younger patients with some motion and less severe joint destruction.

Arthritis of the ankle can be osteoarthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, or inflammatory arthritis as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.  Posttraumatic arthritis accounts for 80% of all ankle arthritis.  The primary osteoarthritis is about 10% only.  Pain with weightbearing, swelling, decreased range of motion compared to the other side, and you will be able to see the arthritis on the x-ray.  Ankle arthrodesis will be done in younger patients with a high demand, or if the patient has comorbidities such as diabetes and obesity.  10 years after ankle arthrodesis, 50% of the patients will have subtalar arthritis.  Some of the patients may get nonunion. Revision of the nonunion can lead to fusion in about 85%.  A young, active worker is a contraindication to total ankle arthroplasty.  You will do the arthrodesis and end-stage ankle arthritis and the union rate is about 90%.  The arthrodesis gives us a reliable pain control but will also give us adjacent joint arthritis.  The entire foot and the patient’s comorbidities must be evaluated to choose the proper surgical technique.  Total ankle arthroplasty has superior gait mechanics compared to ankle arthrodesis.  Ankle arthrodesis is done 6 times more than a total ankle replacement.  If you have an elderly patient with no comorbidities and you want to do a motion preserving procedure, then this would be total ankle arthroplasty.  Revision of total ankle occurs due to loosening of the implant or subsidence, especially in patients less than 55 years old.  In a patient with rheumatoid arthritis with end-stage arthritis, total ankle may be a reasonable option.  In older patients with low demand, you will give total ankle arthroplasty.  In younger, active patients he will do a fusion.  The total ankle arthroplasty is gaining a lot of popularity.  For patients with nonunion, you need to evaluate for infection and metabolic bone disease.  You may also need a CT scan.  Preservation of the fibula can help the potential conversion to a total ankle at a later date.  When you compare patient with an ankle prosthesis to a patient with thin ankle fusion, there is more complication rate and revision rate for a patient with total ankle and more increased wound complications for people with rheumatoid arthritis.  If you are in doubt, use ankle arthrodesis.

u Need To Know — Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Spine Exam: Neck and Upper Extremity

 Written by Ryan Jones with Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Neck and upper extremities spine examination or cervical spine physical examination involves assessment of vertebrae C3-T2, cranial nerve roots C4-T1, and all the muscles innervated by these nerve roots along with the muscles associated with basic neck movement. This examination follows the typical pattern of orthopedic examination of inspection, palpation, range of motion, neurological evaluation, and special tests1.


Check for any visual deformities or abnormal anatomical alignments in the coronal and sagittal plane including typical cervical lordosis and thoracic kyphosis1. Also, look for any surgical scars, skin defects like café au lait spots, or muscular atrophy2. Muscular atrophy can present as shoulder imbalance, scapular winging, or a general unilateral reduction in size of muscles of the upper extremities.


Palpate for local tenderness along the spinal axis while also looking for any asymmetry2. This includes palpations of the spinous processes and facet joints of the vertebrae along with palpation of the scapula to look for any asymmetry. Palpate the paraspinal muscles while looking for any tenderness or asymmetry. The muscles of importance include the trapezius, rhomboids, and levator scapulae muscles1,3.

Range of Motion

Range of motion for the cervical spine involves checking cervical flexion (normal = 50), extension (normal = 60), rotation (normal = 80), and lateral bending (normal = 45)2. A thorough range of motion examination should also be done for the shoulder due to the extensive nerve root innervation. Shoulder range of motion involves testing abduction (normal = 180), adduction (normal = 45), flexion (normal = 90), extension (normal = 45), internal rotation (normal = 55), and external rotation (normal = 45)4. Any abnormalities in range of motion can be indicative of muscular or neurological pathologies.

Neurological Examination

Test the motor ability and strength of the muscles associated with each cranial root for strength by grading it 0-V based on the muscle manual testing grading system2,3. Any weakness is a sign of muscular or neurological pathology. Next, test for sensory function for pain (with a paper clip) and light touch (finger) sensation at the dermatome for each cranial nerve1. Any abnormalities may be a result of neurological pathologies. Test the biceps reflex for C5, brachioradialis reflex for C6, and triceps reflex for C7 cranial nerve root abnormalities1.

Special Tests

Use the following provocative test to differentiate neck pathologies from other upper extremity:

·         Spurling’s test is indictive of acute radioculopathy2.

·         Hoffman’s test is indictive of cervical myelopathy2.

·         Lhermitte’s test is indicative of compression and myelopathy of the cervical spine2.

·         Stretch test is indicative of brachial plexus pathology.

·         Compression test is indicative of narrowing of the neural foramen, facet joint pressure, or muscle spasms from the paraspinal muscles3.

·         Observation of steppage, lateral, or wide-base gait are all indicative of myelopathy or neurological pathology2.

Remember that an MRI may be required to confidently differentiate between shoulder and neck pathologies1.


1.       Ebraheim N. Spine Exam & Upper Extremity – Everything You Need to Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim [Internet]. Toledo (OH): University of Toledo Medical Center, Department of Orthopedics; 2021 Aug 4 [cited 2021 Oct 23]. Available from:

2.       Moore DW. Neck & Upper Extremity Spine Exam [Internet]. Santa Barbara (CA): Santa Barbara Orthopedic Associates; 2021 June 27 [cited 2021 Oct 23]. Available from:

3.       Iyer KM. Examination of the Cervical Spine. In: Clinical Examination in Orthopedics. London: Springer; 2012. pp 97-107.

4.       Iyer KM. Examination of the Shoulder. In: Clinical Examination in Orthopedics. London: Springer; 2012. pp 9-18.

Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome

Written by Jonathan Hunyadi with Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) a pathology in runners usually involving the anterior compartment of the leg. It is believed to result from swelling and hypoperfusion of muscle and nerve during physical activity. Patients typically present with anterior burning leg pain that is exacerbated by exercise and is greatly reduced or completely subsides 15 to 30 minutes after exercise.

The condition can be diagnosed by measuring the pressure of the affected compartment one and five minutes after exercise. A pressure of 30 mmHg one minute and a pressure of 20 mmHg five minutes after exercise is considered diagnostic. Patients with CECS usually have a resting intra-compartment pressure greater than 15 mmHg which greatly increases during running. This typically produces a burning, cramping or aching pain after about 10 minutes of running resulting in cessation of exercise. Additionally, patients sometimes report tingling over the dorsal aspect of the foot while running.

Patients often present following stretching and strengthening therapy without relief. On physical exam, the patient will present with diffuse, nonspecific tenderness over the anterolateral leg without focal tenderness over bone. Pulses and x-ray will be normal and bone scan or MRI will be negative for stress fractures. Classic findings of acute compartment syndrome such as pain with passive toe dorsiflexion and sensory loss in the first web space, are typically absent.

Following diagnosis, treatment consists of the surgical release of affected compartments. During lateral compartment release, the superficial peroneal nerve, which pierces the fascia 10cm to 12cm proximal to the tip of the lateral malleolus, must be avoided. Surgical fasciotomy is usually successful but with a relatively high recurrence rate of approximately 20%. Recurrence typically occurs around two years following the initial procedure and is due to fibrosis within the compartment, causing return of symptoms and potential nerve entrapment. Additional causes of recurrences are inadequate release, failure to recognize and release all compartments, and misdiagnosis.

The differential diagnosis for CECS is large with overlap of symptoms. A common example is medial tibial stress syndrome. With this condition, bony tenderness along the posteromedial tibia will be present. Popliteal artery entrapment, a dynamic exercise related vascular phenomenon, is another condition in the differential. CECS can be distinguished by its predictable exercise related onset, relief of symptoms at rest and by being present for a long time.

Nerve Injury Positions of the Hand and Fingers

Written by Alec Bryson with Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

The presentation of a patient’s hand may provide insight to which nerve is damaged and the approximate location of the damage. When presenting with ulnar n. damage, a patient may show a claw hand, Wartenberg’s sign, or Froment’s sign. Claw hand will present with clawing of the fourth and fifth digits due to the inability to extend the fingers specifically at the interphalangeal joints. This presentation is due to the lack of innervation to the intrinsic muscles of the hands, and the unopposed action of the flexor digitorum profundus m. (Moore et al., 2018). This indicates damage near the distal end of the ulnar n., below the elbow, and potentially near the wrist. Wartenberg’s sign will be seen as the inability to adduct the fifth digit when extended as well as an inability to cross the second and third digit. This is due to ulnar n. injury leading to wasting of the fifth interosseous m. This causes the fifth digit to rest in a more abducted position due to the unbalanced action of the extensor digiti minimi m. (Ebraheim, 2021). There will also be loss of function of the lumbrical m. in the fourth and fifth digits. A Froment’s test will detect palsy of the ulnar n. resulting from compression in the cubital tunnel. When asking the patient to pinch a piece of paper between their thumb and second digit, a positive Froment’s Sign will show as the patient flexing their thumb’s interphalangeal joint to grip the paper as the paper is pulled away (Attum, 2021). This will result from a weak adductor pollicis m. due to ulnar n. palsy.

Depending on the location of a lesion to the median n., the patient will present with one of three signs. A positive Benedictine sign will be caused by proximal median n. damage. It will be seen as paralysis of the first and second digit, with weakness to the third digit. A proximal lesion would lead to paralysis of several muscles (FDS, FPL, FPB, and the radial half of FDP), leaving the ulnar half of the flexor digitorum profundus m. as the only remaining flexor (Ebraheim, 2021). When the patient is asked to make a fist, the hand will resemble the similar position taken during a blessing. A positive Benedict sign will also resemble the ulnar claw hand. However, the Benedict sign will present when the patient is flexing, not extending the fingers (Ebraheim, 2021). A median n. injury affecting the anterior interosseous n. branch will present as an inability to do the OK sign. This occurs due to paralysis of the flexor pollicus longus m. and the lateral part of the flexor digitorum m. (Moore et al., 2018). A positive Ape hand (Simian hand) is caused by paralysis of only the thenar m. from damage to the recurrent branch of the median n. to the thenar m. The thumb will be seen in the same plane as the other digits due the thumb being pulled more dorsal by the action of the adductor pollicis m., which is innervated by the ulnar n. (Moore et al., 2018).

Finally, proximal radial n. damage will be seen as wrist drop. This is usually caused by fractures of the distal third of the humeral shaft (Holstein-Lewis Fracture) and caused paralysis of the wrist and fingers extensors (Ebraheim, 2010). Lower radial n. injury will present in the patient as the ability to extend the wrist, but the loss of finger extension. There will be no wrist drop, but the patient would not be able to make a hitchhiking sign.

Reference List

Attum B. Physical exam of the hand [Internet]. Orthobullets. Lineage Medical, Inc.; 2021 [cited 2021Oct21]. Available from:

Ebraheim N. Anterior Interosseous Nerve Injury – Everything You Need To Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim [Internet]. YouTube. 2021 [cited 2021Oct21]. Available from:

Ebraheim N. Claw Hand, Ulnar Claw Hand – Everything You Need To Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim [Internet]. YouTube. 2017 [cited 2021Oct21]. Available from:

Ebraheim N. Nerve Injury Position of the Hand & Fingers – Everything You Need To Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim [Internet]. YouTube. 2021 [cited 2021Oct21]. Available from:

Ebraheim N. Radial Nerve Palsy, injury – WRIST DROP . Everything You Need To Know – Dr. Nabil Ebraheim [Internet]. YouTube. 2010 [cited 2021Oct21]. Available from:

Moore KL, Dalley AF, Agur A. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2018.