Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Osteoarthritis can develop after a joint sustains an injury. The effects of arthritis on the foot and ankle and the symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis are explained. Stiffness and swelling are two symptoms.


What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases. The word "arthritis" means "joint inflammation." Arthritis involves inflammation (swelling) in and around the joints. Pain, stiffness, and swelling can result from inflammation. Arthritis can be an acute or chronic inflammation of a joint and its surrounding soft tissues. In arthritis, progressive joint deterioration occurs and the smooth "cushioning" cartilage in joints is gradually lost, resulting in the bones wearing against each other. Soft tissues in the joints also may begin to wear down. Arthritis can be painful and eventually can result in limited motion, loss of joint function, and deformities in the joints affected.

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is generally associated with aging. Other risk factors for osteoarthritis include joint injury, obesity, genetics and anatomic factors such as joint shape and alignment.


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How does arthritis affect the foot and ankle?

Each foot has 28 bones and more than 30 joints. The most common foot joints that arthritis affects are:

  • The joint where the ankle and shinbone meet.
  • The 3 joints of the foot that involve the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone, and the outer mid-foot bone.
  • The joint of the big toe and foot bone.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis?

Symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis often involve the following:

  • Tenderness or pain.
  • Reduced ability to move or walk.
  • Stiffness in the joint.
  • Swelling in the joint.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is foot and ankle arthritis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of foot and ankle arthritis most likely will involve the following:

  • A preliminary medical history in which the provider asks questions about when and where the pain began, as well as aggravating or alleviating factors.
  • A test called a gait analysis, in which the healthcare provider measures your stride and the way you walk.
  • X-rays.

Management and Treatment

How is foot and ankle arthritis treated without surgery?

Foot and ankle arthritis can be treated in many ways. Non-surgical methods to treat foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Weight control.
  • Custom-made shoes or orthotics.
  • Inserts that support the ankle and foot.
  • Bracing for joint support.
  • Using a cane or walker to take stress off the affected joint.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the joints.
  • Pain relievers.
  • Steroid medication injected into the joints.


What surgical treatments can help to treat foot and ankle arthritis?

More than one kind of surgery may be required to treat foot and ankle arthritis. Your doctor can select the kind of surgery that is best for you, depending on the type and extent of the arthritis you have. The following are some of the surgical options for foot and ankle arthritis:

  • Arthroscopic surgery: This kind of surgery can help in early stages of arthritis. In arthroscopic surgery, an arthroscope (a small instrument about the size of a pencil) is inserted into a joint. The instrument projects an image onto a monitor that is viewed by a surgeon. The surgeon can then use tiny forceps, knives, and shavers to clean the joint area. Arthroscopic surgery can help to remove any foreign tissues or bony outgrowths (spurs) that are present in the joint.
  • Fusion surgery: This kind of surgery, also called arthrodesis, involves fusing bones together with the use of rods, pins, screws, or plates. After healing, the bones remain fused together.
  • Joint replacement surgery: This kind of surgery involves replacing the ankle joint with artificial implants and is used only in rare cases.
Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/31/2019.

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