Arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, is a condition that can affect a variety of joints in the body. Because there are over 30 joints in the foot and ankle alone, and because they get a lot of wear over the years, this area is susceptible to foot and ankle arthritis. If left untreated, foot and ankle arthritis can lead to pain and deformity that may limit your ability to walk.
The primary types of arthritis that affect the foot and ankle are osteoarthritis, which occurs in a specific joint, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects multiple joints throughout the body.
Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Arthritis
You may notice the following symptoms in the affected foot or ankle joint:
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, patients usually begin to experience foot and ankle arthritis symptoms at the front of the foot, followed by the back of the foot, and the ankle.
Foot and ankle arthritis may also cause secondary podiatric conditions, including hammertoe and flatfeet.
Causes of Foot and Ankle Arthritis
Foot and ankle arthritis most often occurs at an advanced age. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have different root causes:
Osteoarthritis can be caused by:
- Years of wear on a joint that causes damage to the joint cartilage
- A previous joint-related injury like a break, sprain, or ligament tear
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the membranes around the joints, called the synovium. It affects multiple areas of the body and progresses to the feet or ankles in 90 percent of cases.
What to Expect at Your Appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will first examine your foot and ankle and ask you about your medical history, including past injuries to the foot and ankle, and whether you have had a prior rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. In order to diagnose foot and ankle arthritis and determine the extent of the arthritis damage, your doctor will order an X-ray or other imaging test. You may also have a blood test to look for indicators of inflammation or rheumatoid arthritis.
Non-surgical Treatments for Foot and Ankle Arthritis
Your podiatric surgeonwill determine which treatment options are best for you depending on your age, the severity of symptoms, conclusions drawn from an x-ray exam, and other factors.
If symptoms are mild, your doctor may recommend non-invasive treatment options such as:
- Oral anti-inflammatory medication
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and stiffness
- Physical therapy to maintain motion in the foot and ankle
- Orthotics, or custom inserts used in your shoes
- Weight loss, to reduce pressure on the affected foot or ankle
If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, you will also need be treated by a rheumatologist.
Surgical Treatment for Foot and Ankle Arthritis
Different levels of surgical treatment are available, and your doctor will recommend the best options given the location of your foot or ankle arthritis and how much it has advanced. Possible surgical recommendations include:
- Arthroscopic debridement, a surgery that cleans inflamed tissue out of the joint.
- Arthrodesis, or joint fusion, involves removing the ends of the bones that form the joint and fusing them together. It’s important to note that while it relieves pain, this operation causes a loss of motion in the joint.
- Arthroplasty, or artificial joint replacement.
Recovery from foot or ankle arthritis surgery maytake several months, but it varies by surgical procedure. Your doctor may give you a special shoe or boot to wear to protect your toe as well as require that you rest your foot during this time. Be sure to assess recovery times when you work with your doctor to choose the best treatment for you.
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