The ankles are complex structures essential for movement. Along with your feet, they enable weight-bearing, aid balance, and provide shock absorption when you stand, walk, run, or jump. Additionally, the ankle joint allows for up-and-down movement of the foot, while the subtalar joint, which sits just below, lets the foot move from side to side. However, working so hard and doing so much puts your ankles at risk for numerous injuries and disorders such as arthritis.
If you’re suffering from pain, swelling, stiffness, or instability of an ankle joint, arthritis may be to blame. Here's what you need to know about this common disorder, including the types of arthritis that affect the ankle and the wide-ranging treatment options Massapequa Podiatry Associates offers.
Arthritis and Your Ankles
Twenty-six bones come together to form the 33 joints in the foot and ankle. The end of each bone in these joints is covered with a flexible connective tissue called cartilage, which provides cushioning and allows the joint to move smoothly. Arthritis isn't one single disease. Instead, it's a general term for a group of more than 100 disorders that cause swelling, tenderness, and stiffness in one or more joints, as well as the progressive degeneration of joint-cushioning cartilage and surrounding soft tissues.
Ankle Arthritis Signs and Symptoms
- Tenderness in the ankle joint, especially when pressure is applied
- Pain felt deep within the joint (this pain can develop gradually or appear suddenly and may feel more severe in the morning, with movement, or when resuming activities after sitting or resting)
- Joint warmth, swelling, and redness
- Stiffness of the ankle joint
- Difficulty walking due to decreased joint mobility
- Visible deformity of the ankle joint
- Numbness or tingling in the feet and toes (caused by irritation of the nerves surrounding the joint)
- Ankle joint instability
Causes and Risk Factors
Ankle arthritis can be caused by a joint injury or infection (post-traumatic arthritis), age-related wear-and-tear known as osteoarthritis, or an autoimmune inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. Risk factors include abnormalities in joint shape or alignment, obesity, and a family history of ankle issues. Arthritis can affect one or both ankles; however, post-traumatic arthritis and osteoarthritis are more likely to cause symptoms on just one side, while rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to result in symptoms on both sides.
Diagnosing and Treating Ankle Arthritis
Your podiatrist will ask you about your medical history and symptoms and conduct a thorough physical examination to determine the range of motion of the affected ankle or ankles. They may also perform a gait analysis or use imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to gain more insight into the way you walk and the severity of your arthritis.
Arthritis doesn't have a cure, so the treatment of ankle arthritis focuses on relieving painful symptoms, improving joint function, and slowing the progression of cartilage and soft-tissue degeneration.
- Lifestyle changes. Avoiding movements that aggravate your arthritis and switching to lower impact activities are simple lifestyle changes that may help manage symptoms. If you're obese, losing weight can also be beneficial.
- Physical therapy. Special exercises and movements can help improve ankle flexibility and range of motion.
- Custom orthotics. Shoe insoles or inserts made specifically for your feet can provide personalized support and cushioning, as well as help mitigate joint alignment issues.
- Other assistive devices. Using a cane or walker can help relieve excess pressure on the feet and ankles that exacerbate arthritis.
- Medications. Pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections are a few examples of medication-based treatment for ankle arthritis.
- Surgical solutions. Our podiatric surgeons are trained in a number of procedures that can address ankle arthritis, including arthroscopic debridement to remove loose cartilage and damaged tissue; arthrodesis, which fuses two or more bones together to eliminate painful movement; and total ankle replacement or arthroplasty, in which the surgeon removes that damaged bone and cartilage in the affected ankle joints and replaces them with plastic or metal components.
Schedule an Appointment
As ankle arthritis progresses, it can reduce your mobility and quality of life. Don't wait until that happens to get the help you need and deserve. Complete our online contact form, or call our office at 516-541-9000 (toll-free 877-674-7422) to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced podiatrists.