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Ankle and Foot Arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases that involve inflammation and swelling in and around the joints and soft tissue of your feet and ankles.

With many kinds of arthritis, foot and ankle joints wear down over time. You slowly lose the smooth “cushioning” cartilage inside them. As a result, your bones rub against each other and wear down, and the soft tissues can, too. After some time, the joint might not work or move the way it should.

What causes Ankle or Foot Arthritis?

The two main types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – damage joints in different ways.


This is the degenerative, wear-and-tear kind of arthritis. It occurs as the cartilage in the joint gradually wears away and the protective space between your bones decreases. When it gets to the point that the bones are rubbing against each other, bone spurs are created. Osteoarthritis develops slowly and causes pain and stiffness that gets worse as you age. Risk factors include family history and obesity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect multiple joints throughout the body and often starts in the foot and ankle. It is symmetrical, meaning it usually affects the same joint on both sides of your body. When you have rheumatoid arthritis, immune cells attack your joint covering, causing it to swell. Over time, the covering invades and damages your bone and cartilage, as well as ligaments and tendons, and may cause serious joint deformity and disability. Its exact cause is unknown, and even though it’s not an inherited disease, research shows that some people have certain genes that make them more susceptible.

How do you know you have Ankle or Foot Arthritis?

The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on which joint is affected, and most arthritic joints are painful and inflamed. Pain will develop gradually over time, although sudden onset is also possible. Other symptoms are:

  • Pain with motion
  • Pain that flares up with vigorous activity
  • Tenderness when pressure is applied to the joint
  • Joint swelling, warmth, and redness
  • Increased pain and swelling in the morning or after sitting or resting
  • Difficulty walking due to any of the above symptoms

How does OSI fix Ankle or Foot Arthritis?

A board-certified OSI foot and ankle specialist will discuss your symptoms and examine you for signs of foot and ankle arthritis. Your OSI orthopedic professional will do some or all of the following to help diagnosis foot or ankle arthritis:

  • Physical exam: Your OSI doctor will check your overall medical history, examine your foot and ankle, talk about any previous injury and symptoms, and even look at your shoes to see if they show uneven wear. Your OSI doctor will do a gait analysis to see how you’re walking and if your pain is creating a limp.
  • X-rays: A weight-bearing X-ray is the most valuable test in diagnosing the severity of arthritis. It will show narrowing of the joint space, changes to the bone, and the formation of any bone spurs.
  • MRI or CT scan: Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography are sometimes necessary to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissues.
  • Lab tests: A blood test may be necessary to determine which kind of arthritis you have. If rheumatoid arthritis is suspected, you may be referred to a rheumatologist.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Initial treatment of foot and ankle arthritis is usually nonsurgical, and treatment options vary.

  • Lifestyle modifications. Minimize activities that aggravate the condition. Switch to low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling, and change your diet to lose weight and reduce stress on your joints.
  • Physical therapy. Specific exercises, which your OSI orthopedic specialist will recommend, can help increase range of motion and flexibility, as well as help strengthen the muscles in your foot and ankle.
  • Assistive devices. Using a cane or wearing a brace might help improve your mobility, and orthotics can minimize pressure on the foot and decrease pain. We have an orthotics specialist right at OSI, so you have quick access to getting what you need.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce pain and swelling. 
  • Cortisone injections can provide temporary pain relief.

Surgical Treatment

If your pain causes disability and is not relieved with nonsurgical options, your OSI doctor will discuss the following surgical options:

  • Arthroscopic debridement 
  • Arthrodesis (fusion)
  • Total ankle replacement (arthroplasty) 


Most OSI patients experience pain relief and improved quality of life after surgery. Full recovery can take from 4 to 9 months, depending on how severe your condition was. Foot and ankle surgery can be painful, and you can expect discomfort. However, with follow up from of your caring and compassionate OSI team, you should be able to resume your normal daily routine within 3 or 4 months.