What Is Ankle and Foot Arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation of one or more joints. There are over 100 forms of arthritis, many of which affect the ankle. Arthritis of the ankle develops when cartilage wears away, causing the bones that form the ankle to rub against each other. This leads to pain and inflammation. Although symptoms of ankle arthritis may arise suddenly, they usually develop gradually. Symptoms include:

  • Pain when moving the foot or ankle
  • Ankle joint tenderness
  • Ankle swelling
  • Ankle pain that’s worse in the morning or after a period of rest
  • Walking difficulty

How Common Is Ankle and Foot Arthritis?

Approximately 23% of Americans have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis, and almost 50% of people over 65 have received an arthritis diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease worldwide, with 1% of osteoarthritis cases affecting the ankle. Arthritis is more likely to develop with age, and it affects women more often than men. It is also more common in obese people.

Common Treatments for Ankle and Foot Arthritis

Lifestyle modifications, such as losing weight and avoiding activities that cause discomfort, are the first step in dealing with ankle arthritis. Taking over-the-counter pain medications, applying ice, supporting the ankle with a brace, and using a cane or walker may also be helpful. Cortisone injections may be effective in reducing pain. A physical therapist may recommend exercises to help strengthen the ankle muscles and improve balance.

When conservative treatments don’t provide enough relief, surgery is an option. The surgeon may remove bone spurs, alleviating pain while maintaining function. An ankle fusion fuses two bones, reducing pain but limiting movement of the ankle. For those with advanced ankle arthritis, a surgeon may perform a total ankle replacement, which preserves mobility while alleviating pain.

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