Key Points about Foot or Ankle Arthritis

  • Foot or ankle arthritis is typically caused by the general wear and tear of the foot or ankle joints. It can also be caused by injuries, fractures, sprains, or abnormal foot mechanics.
  • The most common symptoms of foot or ankle arthritis are pain, joint stiffness, swelling, and reduced ability to move or walk.
  • While there is not a cure for foot or ankle arthritis, offers a variety of treatments that can relieve pain and slow the progression of the disease.
  • Foot or ankle arthritis can be diagnosed with a physical exam, medical history review, gait analysis, and an X-ray.

Overview

Arthritis is a common term for inflammation in and around the joints. Osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle typically affects the joint where the shinbone meets the ankle, the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone, or the outer mid-foot bone or the joint of the foot bone and big toe bone.

As the disease progresses, the cartilage and soft tissues in the joints begin to wear down over time.

Foot or ankle arthritis is often painful and leads to loss of joint movement as well as deformities in the joints.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. 

Foot or ankle arthritis causes

Foot or ankle arthritis is typically caused by the general wear-and-tear of the joints. As the cartilage wears down and things out, the bones will begin to rub together, leading to joint pain and inflammation.

Other causes of osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle may include:

  • Injuries associated with forcefully kicking or dropping something heavy on a joint in the foot or ankle.
  • Fracture.
  • Severe sprain.
  • Flat feet or high arches which lead to abnormal foot mechanics.

Foot or ankle arthritis symptoms

The most common symptom of foot or ankle arthritis is pain or tenderness in the affected joint.

Other symptoms of foot or ankle arthritis include:

  • Pain when moving the joint.
  • Pain in the morning, or after extended periods of inactivity.
  • Joint stiffness, warmth, redness, or swelling.
  • Loss of ability to move or walk.
  • Tenderness when pressure is applied to the affected joint.

Foot or ankle arthritis complications

If left untreated, foot and ankle arthritis can impact your ability to walk or perform daily activities. In rare cases, joints may become twisted or deformed.

Foot or ankle arthritis risk factors

Risk factors for developing foot or ankle arthritis include:

  • If your parents or siblings have arthritis, you are more likely also to develop it.
  • The most common types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, are more prevalent as a person ages.
  • Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Men are more likely to develop Gout.
  • Previous injuries. If you have suffered an injury such as those from sports injuries or car accidents, you are more likely to develop foot and ankle arthritis.
  • Excess weight. People who obese or overweight put more stress on their foot and ankle joints, increasing their chances of developing foot or ankle arthritis.

Foot or ankle arthritis prevention

While all cases of foot or ankle arthritis can be prevented, follow these guidelines to reduce your risk of developing it.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the strain you put on the more than 30 foot or ankle joints. This will slow the progression of arthritis in the foot or ankle.
  • Strengthening your body through exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing foot or ankle arthritis.
  • Examine your foot biomechanics. Your doctor can provide treatment options for patients who have mechanical issues such as flat feet or high arches to reduce their risk of developing foot or ankle arthritis.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Limiting foods such as red meat and shellfish can reduce the level of uric acid in your blood and lower your risk of developing Gout (arthritis in the toe).
  • Care for injuries. Early intervention and treatment of foot and ankle injuries can help you reduce your risk of developing foot and ankle arthritis later in life.

Foot or ankle arthritis diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose foot or ankle arthritis. During a clinic visit, your doctor will take a full medical history and perform a physical exam where he or she will measure your stride and evaluate the way you walk.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will also take an X-ray.

Foot or ankle arthritis treatment

Most patients will be able to control their symptoms with nonsurgical treatments such as;

  • Oral pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications.
  • Oral steroid medications.
  • Shoe inserts can relieve pain by improving your foot mechanics or cushioning the joints.
  • Braces can restrict joint movement to reduce pain and prevent further disease progression.
  • Steroid injections injected directly into the affected joint.
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles in the foot and ankle can help improve foot stability and avoid further injury.

When surgery is needed, your doctor will evaluate your condition to determine the most appropriate treatment for you. The goal of surgery is to decrease pain and improve mobility and/or function.

Surgical treatment options for foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Arthroscopic surgery. If you are in early stages of arthritis, arthroscopic surgery is very effective. During the procedure, your doctor will insert a small medical instrument into the joint to clean the joint area. If you have any foreign tissues such as bone spurs in the joint, arthroscopic surgery will effectively remove them.
  • Fusion surgery. During fusion surgery, your bones will be fused using rods, pins, screws, or plates. The bones will remain fused even after recovery.
  • Joint replacement. During joint replacement surgery, your damaged joint will be replaced with an artificial implant. A joint replacement is major surgery and will only be performed in the most severe cases.

When to Seek Care

If pain, swelling, or other symptoms associated with foot and ankle arthritis are worsening and impacting your daily activities, schedule a visit with your primary care or orthopedic doctor. Early intervention can help slow the progression of the disease.

Next Steps

Before your appointment, take careful notes about your symptoms, when your symptoms occur, and where your pain is the most severe. Your doctor will also want to know if you have a family history of arthritis.

Once diagnosed with foot or ankle arthritis, follow your doctor’s treatment instructions. If your symptoms are worsening, contact your doctor right away.

If you have had surgery, full recovery can take as long as nine months. During this recovery period, your doctor will likely recommend physical therapy to help you restore the range of motion in your foot or ankle.

Some patients will need to wear a brace after surgery to stabilize the joint during recovery.