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Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle: All You Need to Know

The foot and ankle are made up of more than 30 joints which enable a wide range of motion and flexibility. It is surrounded by tough bands of ligaments, tendons, and other structures that support mobility and other functions. Unfortunately, the foot and ankle are no exception when it comes to chronic conditions, such as arthritis. 

Arthritis is a progressive and degenerative condition that can affect one or more joints in the body, including in the foot and ankle. Arthritis has over a hundred different forms, but the most common ones to cause ankle pain include osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

According to studies, approximately 90% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience pain and symptoms in the foot and ankle. Although symptomatic foot and ankle osteoarthritis is not as prevalent, it is still a burden for 15% of patients diagnosed with OA

Learn everything you need about foot and ankle arthritis below一its types, causes, symptoms, and available treatment options. 

What are the different types of foot and ankle arthritis?

Arthritis refers to a medical condition characterized by inflammation or swelling of the joints. It affects the joint itself, surrounding structures, and soft tissues, causing pain and mobility problems. There are several forms of arthritis, but the most prevalent ones affecting the foot  and ankle are as follows:

  • Osteoarthritis 

—a type of arthritis that happens due to the natural aging and fraying of the joints. It occurs when the cartilage sustains wear and tear as a result of overuse or repetitive motion. 

As the cartilage breaks down with every movement, the two bones that make up the joint begin to rub against each other, causing pain and bone spurs. Most cases of foot and ankle osteoarthritis affect seniors aged 50 and above. Other risk factors include obesity, family history, and underlying joint disorder.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis 

—a type of autoimmune disease wherein the body makes its own antibodies that mistakenly target the joints’ synovium一a tissue that lines the joint and facilitates its smooth motion. 

This damages the synovium, ligaments, and other soft tissues surrounding the joints. Over time, this can result in softening or weakening of the bones, thus causing deformity and stress fractures.

  • Post-traumatic arthritis 

—a type of arthritis that occurs due to a prior traumatic injury to the foot and ankle joint. Injuries to the joint (e.g., fracture, dislocation) make it seven times more vulnerable to cartilage fraying, thus resulting in arthritis.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Arthritis in the foot and ankle can affect one or more of its 30 joints, causing pain and swelling. Symptoms may develop gradually and get worse over time without proper interventions. Patients with such a condition can also experience the following symptoms:

  • Worsening pain after movement or activity.
  • Weakness and tenderness of the surrounding muscles
  • Warmth and redness on the inflamed joint
  • Joint stiffness
  • Mobility problems

Some of the most common foot and ankle joints affected by arthritis include the ankle, big toe, midfoot, and hindfoot. 

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor or podiatrist typically diagnose an arthritic foot and ankle joint through the following techniques:

  • Thorough medical history evaluation, including the associated symptoms.
  • Physical examination of the affected foot and ankle to check for palpable tenderness and swelling.
  • A gait analysis wherein your physician observes how you walk and stride. They will also evaluate the strength of the affected foot and ankle. 
  • Imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and check how much of the foot and ankle tissues are compromised. Such tests may include an X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and bone scan.
  • Sometimes, a blood test is needed to confirm a suspected case of rheumatoid arthritis.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your podiatrist will create a customized treatment for your specific medical needs. 

What are the treatment options for foot and ankle arthritis?

There are a variety of treatment options for foot and ankle arthritis, depending on its severity. Doctors may either opt for a combination of conservative approaches or perform surgery if they deem fit. 

Non-surgical treatment

Your podiatrist may go for non-surgical treatment options for mild cases of foot and ankle arthritis. Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following techniques:

  • Activity and lifestyle modifications
  • Physical therapy includes strengthening exercises and low-impact activities that can improve flexibility and range of motion.
  • Use of assistive devices such as braces, shoe inserts, and orthotics. A cane and walker can also help bear the brunt of your weight and take the stress off the affected foot and ankle.
  • Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Surgical treatment

Surgical treatment will only become an option for advanced arthritis that significantly affects the patient’s mobility and quality of life. Additionally, your doctor may opt for surgery if non-surgical approaches fail to improve your symptoms. Surgical treatment may include one or more of the following techniques:

  • Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgery wherein thin, flexible instruments and a camera are used to diagnose and treat arthritis. Your doctor can view the inside of the joint, remove foreign objects or damaged structures, and then clean the area. 
  • Joint fusion or arthrodesis - a surgical procedure wherein the damaged cartilage is removed to fuse the two bones together and make one immobile joint. Metal screws, pins, and plates are used to combine the bones, thus reducing pain during motion.
  • Arthroplasty or total joint replacement - a surgery wherein the damaged joints are removed and will be replaced by artificial counterparts. 

Recovery may take at least four to nine months, depending on the severity of the condition. Fortunately, most procedures have a high success rate of eliminating pain, swelling, and other symptoms. You just have to be patient and committed to the whole recovery process to avoid reinjuring yourself further.

Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Where to find the best foot doctor in Miami?

Florida Foot and Ankle provides one of the best podiatric care and treatment services to address various foot and ankle conditions. Our board-certified physicians specialize in providing superior care and services, such as the following:

And more.

We have locations throughout South Florida, our specialists serving the Greater Miami Area, including Miami-Dade (Miami, Kendall, Miami Beach, Hialeah, Coral Gables), Broward County (Hollywood, Pembroke Pines), and Palm Beach County (Boca Raton). 

You can find the most convenient location near you by clicking here or contacting us at 786-662-3893 to get in touch with a podiatrist.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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Suite 108
Doral, FL 33122
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