Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Institutes & Services > TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute

Many different types of arthritis affect the foot and ankle. The most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute specialists offer expert treatment for foot and ankle arthritis. Our goal is to help relieve joint pain and stiffness and get you moving more comfortably.

Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of a joint that causes the joint to become stiff and painful. It commonly develops in the small joints of the foot and ankle, often affecting the ability to move the foot or ankle through the full range of motion.

Foot and ankle arthritis causes

There are many types of arthritis, but the major types of foot and ankle arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis—Caused by “wear and tear” on a joint. Osteoarthritis happens when the cartilage in a joint gradually wears away. The space between the bones become smaller until the bones rub against each other, causing painful bumps. These bumps are known as bone spurs. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, which means it becomes worse over time.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis—This is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks its healthy tissues. In this case, immune cells attack the covering of the joint (synovium), which causes it to swell and eventually damage the cartilage, bone, ligaments and tendons. Rheumatoid arthritis often starts in the foot and ankle, and typically affects both sides of the body. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis—This may develop after a foot or ankle injury such as a fracture; over time, the cartilage between the joints wears away. An injured joint has a seven times greater risk of becoming arthritic than an uninjured joint.

Foot and ankle arthritis symptoms

Symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis typically develop gradually and include:

  • Difficulty walking due to these symptoms
  • Increased pain and swelling after resting
  • Pain and tenderness around the joint
  • Pain with movement
  • Swelling, warmth and redness around the joint

Foot and ankle arthritis treatment

There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment can help relieve pain and swelling and increase movement. It also may slow down the progression of arthritis.

TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute specialists offer a comprehensive range of nonsurgical and minimally invasive surgical treatments for arthritis.

Nonsurgical treatments

  • Lifestyle modifications—Modifying your activities can help relieve pain. Try to avoid or minimize activities that put stress on your foot or ankle, such as high-impact exercise. Wear shoes that support your feet and follow the natural shape of your foot.
  • Physical therapy—A physical therapist can develop a plan to strengthen and stretch your foot and ankle muscles. This can help reduce stiffness and increase flexibility.
  • Orthotics—Placing inserts inside your shoes or wearing shoes designed especially for arthritic feet and ankles can relieve pressure and help with movement.
  • Medications—Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) sold over the counter, such as ibuprofen, can help relieve swelling and pain. If these do not provide relief, your doctor may recommend prescription anti-inflammatory medicine. Cortisone injections in the affected joint can provide temporary relief.

Surgical treatments

If nonsurgical treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat arthritis. The type of surgery depends on your symptoms, how advanced the arthritis is, your age and activity level, and other factors.

Specialists perform several surgical procedures using minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. This involves smaller incisions, less bleeding and often a faster recovery time. During the procedure, the surgeon makes tiny incisions near the foot or ankle joint and inserts a tiny camera through it. The camera shows images of the joint on a video screen. Using the images as a guide, the surgeon performs the procedure using thin specialized instruments.

  • Arthroscopic debridement—In the early stages of arthritis, when the joint space has not been significantly narrowed, the surgeon may remove damaged tissue and bone spurs form around the joint (debridement).
  • Arthroscopic fusion (arthrodesis)—Fusion eliminates pain by immobilizing the damaged joint between the bones and connecting (fusing) the bones together. The surgeon removes damaged tissue and uses pins or screws to immobilize the joint. Fusion surgery is generally more appropriate for younger, active patients whose arthritis has caused a deformity of the joint.
  • Total ankle replacement (arthroplasty) —The surgeon replaces the damaged ankle joint with new metal implants to restore joint function and mobility. Surgeons are at the forefront of this relatively new surgery and are trained in three different total ankle replacement techniques. It is best for older patients with no joint deformity.

Foot and ankle arthritis risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing arthritis in your foot or ankle include:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Being overweight
  • Increasing age
  • Injury to the ankle or foot, especially near a joint

Foot and ankle arthritis prevention

You can help reduce your risk of developing foot or ankle arthritis by taking these precautions:

  • Do low-impact exercise that doesn’t place a lot of stress on the joints
  • Strengthen and stretch your feet and ankles
  • Wear footwear that fits well, provides support and is shaped like your foot

Make an appointment

Getting the right diagnosis for foot and ankle arthritis is the first step toward effective treatment. TriHealth Orthopedic & Sports Institute can connect you with a specialist who can evaluate your condition create a customized treatment plan. Call 513 246 7846 to learn more.

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