Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Understanding Your Condition

What is ankle arthritis?

Arthritis means “joint inflammation.” When this occurs in the ankle joint, the most common symptom is pain. Pain may be accompanied by swelling and stiffness.

What are the types of ankle arthritis?

The most common type of ankle arthritis is post-traumatic ankle arthritis. This is a result of previous injury, either an ankle sprain or fracture. Other causes of ankle arthritis include primary ankle osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

What are the treatments of primary and post-traumatic ankle osteoarthritis?

The first line of treatments of ankle arthritis include non-surgical or conservative treatments. These include activity modification, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy and cortisone injections. Surgical treatment options include arthrodesis and ankle arthroplasty.

Arthritis is an umbrella term for multiple bone disorders. The word “arthritis” indicates “inflammation of joints.” It is better explained as the swelling of the joints and the adjacent tissues. It occurs because of the degeneration of cartilages between the joints. Cartilages are soft and slippery tissues that cushion bony joints.

Any injury to the foot or ankle may injure the cartilage. This results in swelling and pain. Overall, it results in wear and tear or cartilage degeneration around the joints. However, the symptoms may develop gradually or later. If left untreated or ignored, foot and ankle arthritis may result in multiple foot disorders. You may also experience associated symptoms. This includes pain, stiffening of joints, restricted mobility and much more. Moreover, the joints may also experience a lack of function. In severe cases, deformities may also occur.

What Is Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle?

Arthritis involving the bony joints of the feet and ankle is known as arthritis of the foot and ankle.

Each foot has multiple bones and joints. The average human foot has around 28 bones and 33 joints. The most prominent area of the foot prone to arthritis includes the joint between:

●     The ankle and the shinbone.

●     The heel bone and the inner and outer mid-foot bone.

●     The big toe and foot bone.

What Causes Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

Arthritis occurs because of damage to the cartilage. Cartilage is a soft, firm, flexible tissue around the joints between every bone. The cartilage facilitates the bones to move smoothly. When the cartilage in the feet and ankles is worn away, the bones collide. It results in a joint injury. It is manifested as severe pain during movement, swelling and stiffening of joints, as well as other symptoms.

It may also result in restricted mobility of the feet and ankle. Soft tissues around the tissues may also be affected, resulting in inflammation or swelling. Age-related wear and tear, being overweight, trauma or joint injury are some of the common causes of foot and ankle arthritis. The condition is also termed degenerative joint disease.

When Does Foot and Ankle Arthritis Occur?

Arthritis may occur at any age, irrespective of gender. However, it is more common after the age of 45. The risk factors of arthritis are associated with:

●     Weight gain and obesity.

●     Family history.

●     Genetic factors.

●     Rheumatoid arthritis.

●     Gout: a disease caused due to accumulation of uric acid crystals in the joints.

●     Frequent injury to joints resulting in injury to the cartilage.

What Are the Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

●     Pain around the ankle and feet joints

●     Stiffening of joints

●     Swelling around the joints

●     Inability to move or walk

●     Grating or clicking noises while moving your feet and ankles

●     Feeling of unsteadiness when on your feet

How to Diagnose Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

A diagnosis of foot and ankle arthritis is done based on physical examination, symptoms and various investigations. Such investigations include:

●     Routine blood work.

●     Radiographs.

●     Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

●     Computed tomography (CT) scans.

●     Weight-bearing CT scan.

●     Gait analysis—i.e., an analysis of your stride and posture while walking.

How Is Foot and Ankle Arthritis Treated?

Once foot and ankle arthritis are confirmed, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan. Treatment modality is customized based on various factors, including the type of arthritis, your age, medical history and any associated diseases. Moreover, it depends on the extent of the disease and the goals of therapy. The treatment of foot and ankle arthritis aims to resolve pain, deformities and uneasiness. Treatment options can be split into non-surgical therapy and surgical therapy.

Non-Surgical Therapy

It includes anti-inflammatory medication and painkillers, steroid drugs, topical applications and injections. It also includes physiotherapy, footwear alteration, footpads and custom-made foot aid. Braces to support joints and a cane or walker to balance also may be part of this plan. Apart from these, lifestyle modifications are an important therapy.

Lifestyle modifications involve eating a healthy and well-balanced nutritious diet, as well as regular workouts and exercises. There are also some modifications in your routine activities that may ease and delay the symptoms by inhibiting the progression of the disorder. These modifications include:

●     Limiting activities that may worsen the symptoms.

●     Avoiding high-impact workouts like jogging and running.

●     Switching to low-impact exercises like swimming, water aerobics, yoga, etc. This prevents the strain on your foot and ankle significantly.

●     Maintaining an optimum body weight to limit the stress on feet and ankle joints. This eases the pain and symptoms.

Surgical Therapy to Treat Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Surgical intervention may be necessary when non-surgical therapy does not respond or fails to improve the condition. The surgical method chosen is based on certain factors, including the level of progression of the condition, your mobility level, the extent of severity and your requirements. Multiple surgeries may be needed in certain severe cases of foot and ankle arthritis. The types of surgery for foot and ankle arthritis include:

Arthroscopic Surgery

Arthroscopic surgery is recommended in the initial stages of arthritis. A small device called an arthroscope is inserted into your affected joint in this procedure. This device displays pictures of the joint to a monitor. This facilitates the surgeon to view the joints with better clarity. Then, the surgeon uses surgical instruments like forceps and shavers to clean the affected joints. Arthroscopic surgery removes any foreign bodies or bony growths in the joint, also known as spurs, thus reducing the symptoms and facilitating movement.

Fusion Surgery

Fusion surgery is also known as arthrodesis. This treatment is recommended in the case of advanced arthritis. The surgery is performed to join or fuse bones using biocompatible materials in the forms of pins, rods, screws and plates. Once healed, the bones remain fused and intact. This helps to recover from arthritis caused by intense injuries.

Joint Replacement Surgery

Joint replacement surgery for foot and ankle arthritis is very rare. It involves replacing the ankle joint or any joints of the foot with artificial implants. It is recommended only under the following conditions:

●     When the ankle and joint surfaces are completely worn off or resorbed due to arthritis

●     When the pain in your feet interferes with your routine activities

What Are the Complications Foot and Ankle Arthritis Can Cause?

Arthritis of the feet and ankle may worsen the symptoms if left unattended. The complications include:

Hallux Rigidus

Hallux rigidus is a condition that occurs in your big toe. It occurs when the cartilage of the toe joints wears off completely. This may result in infusing the bones of the foot. This worsens the movement of your big toe. It may even restrict your mobility. Moreover, bony outgrowth may also erupt on the surface of your toe.


Hallux rigidus clubbed with arthritis may result in the tilting of your toe toward other toes. This condition imparts an abnormal appearance or a deformity. It is known as bunion or hallux valgus. It may cause loss of balance or unsteadiness while standing and walking.

How Long Is the Recovery Period from Foot and Ankle Arthritis Surgery?

Recovery from ankle and foot arthritis surgery may vary from a few weeks to months. It differs from person to person. It also depends on various factors, like the extent of severity, your age, any pre-existing medical conditions and genetic factors. Strict adherence to post-operative care is equally important for a smooth and speedy recovery. It includes medications, wound care, posture and likewise.

Moreover, your foot may be put in a cast or boot for better support. Additionally, your doctor may suggest physiotherapy and mild exercises based on the therapist’s guidance. Doctors at Orthopaedics Northeast typically customize recovery plans for every patient per their condition and requirements.

What Happens if Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle Is Left Untreated?

Foot and ankle arthritis is an orthopaedic disorder. It occurs due to the deteriorated cartilage surrounding the bony joints of your ankle and foot. It results in pain and restricted movements. Early diagnosis and treatment help control the symptoms and prevent further complications.

With treatment, the quality of your life will improve. Although medications, exercise and weight management can help in the initial stages of arthritis, surgical interventions are advised in the advanced stages of arthritis or when non-invasive therapy fails. However, it can be avoided with early diagnosis and treatment.

If unattended, it could escalate and lead to worsened symptoms. The advanced stages of foot and ankle arthritis is a debilitating phase that can cause intense pain, restricted mobility and deformity of the feet.

You may even encounter unprecedented changes while standing upright or moving your feet. The pain and inflammation may also radiate upward toward your tibia and fibula. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with your healthcare provider if there are any symptoms or uneasiness of prolonged duration.

Are You Looking for Treatment for Your Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of arthritis of the foot and ankle, please reach out to us and seek treatment as early as possible. We have a panel of qualified orthopaedic experts to walk you through all aspects of foot and ankle arthritis treatment. We are also well equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and innovative techniques. Our diagnostic approach and customized treatment plans ensure you the best treatment with the utmost precision and care across every phase of the treatment.

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