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What is Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

Arthritis is the inflammation of joints as a result of degeneration of the smooth cartilage that lines the ends of bones in a joint. This degeneration of the cartilages leads to painful rubbing of the bones, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, resulting in restricted movements. Arthritis in the foot and ankle can occur due to fractures, dislocation, inflammatory disease, or congenital deformity. The foot joints most commonly affected by arthritis are:

  • The joint between the shinbone (tibia) and ankle bone (talus)
  • The three joints of the foot that include the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone, and the outer mid-foot bone
  • The joint of the great toe and foot bone

What are the Types of Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

There are three types of arthritis that can affect the foot and ankle:

  • Osteoarthritis: Also called degenerative joint disease, this is the most common type of arthritis and occurs most often in the elderly. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to wear away over time. In extreme cases, the cartilage can completely wear away, leaving nothing to protect the bones in a joint, causing bone-on-bone contact. Bones may also bulge, or stick out at the end of a joint (bone spurs).
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system (the body’s way of fighting infection) attacks healthy joints, tissues, and organs. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the joints of the hands and feet and tends to be symmetrical. This means the disease affects the same joints on both sides of the body (both feet) at the same time and with the same symptoms.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: Arthritis that develops following an ankle or foot injury is called post-traumatic arthritis. The condition may develop years after the trauma such as a fracture, severe sprain or ligament tears.

What are the Common Causes of Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis occurs as a result of old age. Rheumatoid arthritis is often caused when the genes responsible for the disease are triggered by an infection or environmental factor. This triggers the body to produce antibodies, the defense mechanism of the body, against the joint. Fractures at joint surfaces and joint dislocations may predispose an individual to develop post-traumatic arthritis. The body secretes certain hormones following an injury which may cause death of the cartilage cells.

What are the Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

The symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis include pain or tenderness, swelling, stiffness in the joint and limited range of motion.

How is Foot and Ankle Arthritis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of foot and ankle arthritis is made with a medical history, physical examination and X-rays of the affected joint. A bone scan, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are also performed to diagnose arthritis.

What are the Treatment Options for Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

Non-surgical treatment options for foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Medications (anti-inflammatories)
  • Injections (steroids)
  • Physical therapy
  • Ankle-foot orthosis (AFO)
  • Weight loss
  • Orthotics such as pads or arch supports
  • Canes or braces to support the joints

Other Foot & Ankle Topics

  • American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons
  • AOSSM-American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • Midwestern University