Catching the Right Wave to a Pain-Free Life

For people living with an injury, there's a moment when they cannot tolerate chronic pain any longer.

Linden Ashby

Linden Ashby

For Linden Ashby, it happened in a parking lot.

"I knew I was done when I went to a parking lot, parked the car and saw I was 50 yards from where I had to pay for the ticket," he says. "I got in the car and drove to get the ticket. I couldn't take a step without pain, and by the end of the day, my ankle would really hurt."

An avid surfer and soccer player, Ashby had been dealing with ankle pain and problems since he injured himself during a league soccer game in 2009. He mistook it for a sprain, and kept playing for six months with two torn ligaments. After surgery for his ligaments, he snapped a bone surfing: He caught a small wave, crouched low and then a tiny wave hit in him in the back—just enough to twist his ankle. Except his ankle didn't twist. The joint locked up, and his fibula snapped. By the time he got to the sand, he couldn't walk.

That's when he turned to Cedars-Sinai. David Thordarson, MD, a Cedars-Sinai orthopaedic surgeon, recommended a total ankle replacement.

"I have a good friend who is a physical therapist, and she said Dr. Thordarson is the man for serious ankle issues," says Ashby, 57. "I've been to a lot of other doctors, and I was confident in Dr. Thordarson."

Ashby is an actor, recently appearing in six seasons of the TV series Teen Wolf. He regularly brought a bike to work, because the walk from his trailer to the stage hurt too badly. The daily pain also limited him from doing the activities he loves—soccer, hiking and keeping up with his dogs, Oscar and Maggie.

In April 2016, he had a Scandinavian Total Ankle Replacement (STAR). This procedure attaches a piece of metal that covers the lower bone of the ankle and a plate to the bottom of the tibia, or "shin bone." Between them is a mobile bearing designed to move between the metal pieces as you move your ankle. The materials are the same as those used in hip and knee replacements.

"Options for joint replacements have been improving and are getting better all the time," Thordarson says. "This particular replacement technique uses a mobile bearing, which allows plenty of flexibility."

Ashby delayed his surgery until he wrapped up work on Teen Wolf, opting instead to have his bone spurs removed—a patch until he had the ankle replacement.

"I wish I'd done the ankle replacement sooner," Ashby says. "You take a step, and you think it's going to be painful. Your body is so prepared for pain. I'd spent six or seven years hurting all the time. Compared to that, this has been an easy recovery. Nothing happens overnight. Be patient."

He completed rehabilitation and physical therapy over the course of two months. Then he was quickly back in the water and on a surfboard.

In addition to surfing, he hikes with his wife, Susan. He walks without pain and rides bikes. He hasn't been on skis in seven years, but he hopes to hit the slopes again soon.

"My quality of life has improved so much after the surgery—it's just amazing," Ashby says.

Linden Ashby's Advice for Others Undergoing Ankle Replacement
Standing on a beach in wet suit

Bring a tall sock or some gauze to the hospital. "When you come out of surgery, you're wrapped in this soft cast—it's like a rubber wrap." Covering it up will keep it from grabbing your sheets while you sleep, which makes it hard to move around.

Ask the experts. Ashby talked to several doctors, physical therapists and their colleagues before choosing his surgeon. Physical therapists help a lot of patients recover. "These are the guys who see everybody's work."

Talk to someone who's been there. If you can find someone else who has had the same procedure, talking to them about their experience can go a long way to calm your fears. "The fear of the unknown is the worst part," he says.

Don't put it off. Ashby says he was nervous about having a joint replacement. "You're removing a joint and there's no going back," he says. He tried injections and holistic remedies—anything to keep the pain at bay. None of it worked. "Life is too short to waste years being in pain."


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