Ankle Osteoarthritis

As you age, your chance of developing osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear, increases. The joint damage associated with osteoarthritis causes swelling, pain, and deformity. Here is information about how osteoarthritis affects the foot and ankle and information you can use to help you manage this debilitating condition.

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 and swelling in and around the body's joints and surrounding soft tissue. The inflammation can cause pain and stiffness.

In many kinds of arthritis, progressive joint deterioration occurs and the smooth "cushioning" cartilage in joints is gradually lost. As a result, the bones rub and wear against each other. Soft tissues in the joints also may begin to wear down. Arthritis can be painful and eventually result in limited motion, loss of joint function, and deformities in the joints affected.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis, or "wear-and-tear" arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease or age-related arthritis, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop as people age. Inflammation and injury to the joint cause a breaking down of cartilage tissues, resulting in pain, swelling, and deformity. The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over many years, though there are occasional exceptions.

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Each foot has 28 bones and more than 30 joints. The following are the most common foot joints affected by osteoarthritis:

  • The three 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
  • The joint where the ankle and shinbone meet
When you age, the chances also increase.

There are two risk factors for ankle osteoarthritis, such as:

  • Previous joint trauma;
  • An underlying medical condition.

Symptoms of foot and ankle osteoarthritis often include:

  • Tenderness or pain
  • Reduced ability to move, walk, or bear weight
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Swelling in the joint

The diagnosis of foot and ankle osteoarthritis most likely will involve:

  • A medical history
  • Physical exam
  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or CT scans
Ankle osteoarthritis can be treated without surgery. Non-surgical treatments available include:
  • Injections of steroid medications into the affected joints;
  • Anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers;
  • Some instrument supports such as pad or arch;
  • Physical therapy.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat ankle osteoarthritis. Depending on your condition, your doctor will help you decide what is the best option for you. The two most common surgeries for ankle osteoarthritis are:

  • Fusion surgery or arthrodesis is the procedure of fusing the bones together, using pins, screws, and plates.
  • Joint replacement surgery  which replaces the natural joints with artificial implant ones.

Fortunately, ankle osteoarthritis can be controlled with proper medications. Although you cannot undo the damage in your joint, you are still able to slow down the process as well as manage the pain and disability by staying physically active and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The most essential element of foot care for people with foot and ankle osteoarthritis is to wear shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable. The following are things to look for in finding a comfortable shoe:

  • Shoes shaped like your foot
  • Shoes that have support -- for example, no slip-on shoes
  • Rubber soles to provide more cushioning
  • Flexibility
  • Proper fit -- ask the salesperson to help you with this

Exercise can help keep your feet pain-free, strong, and flexible. Exercises that can be good for your feet include:

  • Achilles stretch. With your palms flat on a wall, lean against the wall and place one foot forward and one foot back. Lean forward, leaving your heels on the floor. You can feel the pull in your Achilles tendon and your calf. Repeat this exercise three times, holding for 10 seconds on each repeat.
  • Big-toe stretch. Place a thick rubber band around your big toes. Pull the big toes away from each other and toward the other toes. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times.
  • Toe pull. Place a rubber band around the toes of each foot, and then spread your toes. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times.
  • Toe curl. Pick up marbles with your toes.

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