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Patient Education

Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Pain and stiffness felt in your feet and ankles could be caused by arthritis. What starts as a mild nagging pain for some can quickly worsen if left unaddressed. Eventually, the pain may become so excruciating that even walking short distances or carrying out everyday activities becomes impossible. Severe cases of arthritis can impair your mobility and have a profound effect on your quality of life; although with proper treatment, you can keep your arthritis under control and lead a happier life.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is an umbrella term used to characterize a number of conditions that degrade the working ability of a joint.

While arthritis can occur in many areas such as the back, neck, knees, or hands, it also commonly occurs in the feet and ankles. Nearly 50% of people above the age of 60 have some sort of arthritis of the foot or ankle, even if there are no symptoms.

Though there are many different types of arthritis, the two most common include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) – This type results from the normal wear and tear to the joint cartilage over time. The most common symptoms that result are inflammation, redness, swelling, and pain around the affected joint.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) – Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory condition in the joint lining (synovium) that causes pain and swelling.

Additionally, a traumatic injury like a broken bone or ankle sprain can cause the affected area to become arthritic in the future.

Foot Anatomy

The human foot is comprised of 26 bones and over 30 joints which lend to its exceptional range of motion. Bands of tissue called ligaments hold the bones and joints together, and everything works together to control the motion of the foot. Arthritis impedes the motion in the foot and ankle, causing difficulty when walking.

Treatment

For total treatment of foot and ankle arthritis, both the pain and joint deformity need to be addressed. Pain develops when the joint becomes injured, which can result from swelling caused by inflammatory arthritis, or the degradation of cartilage within the joint. If neglected, the joint can become deformed.

If arthritis is suspected, your doctor will have you complete a medical history and physical examination. From there, diagnostic testing like X-rays and lab tests can determine the type and severity of the arthritis. Other tests like CT scans or MRI may be used to help determine the severity of your condition.

Once your diagnosis is confirmed, your physician will make a recommendation for a treatment regimen that can include:

  • Oral medication
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Diet modification
  • Custom-fit orthotics

In some cases, a surgical procedure may be necessary, such as:

  • Arthroscopic debridement – Often used to clean the affected joint and remove loose cartilage, inflamed synovial tissue, or bone spurs from around the joint.
  • Arthrodesis – Also known as bone fusion, arthrodesis makes one continuous bone out of two or more bones and is intended to reduce pain by reducing motion in an arthritic joint.
  • Arthroplasty – In the most severe cases, a total ankle replacement may be necessary. Your doctor would remove the damaged areas of the joint, which would be replaced with artificial surfaces made of metal or plastic to restore full function to the joint.

Recovery

In cases of arthritis that require surgical treatment, a patient can expect relief from pain, which makes it easier to conduct day-to-day activities. Full recovery after surgery can take from 4 to 9 months depending on the location and severity of the arthritis being treated, as well as the procedure used to make the correction.

Immediately after surgery, you will be given medication to manage any pain you experience, and if necessary, you may be prescribed a pain reliever that you can use at home for a short time following the procedure.

As your recovery progresses, physical therapy may be needed to promote strength in your foot or ankle and to help restore range of motion. Most patients are able to resume their normal daily activities in 3 to 4 months after their surgical procedure.

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in your foot and ankle, request an appointment with the foot and ankle specialists at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine online or by calling 904-825-0540.