When you hear the term arthritis, you probably think about it affecting your knee or the small joints in your hand, but arthritis is also pretty common in your ankles. Arthritis develops when the cartilage in your joints degenerates, making movements difficult and more painful. Since your ankle joints are used so frequently on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that cartilage degeneration can occur.
Causes and Symptoms of Ankle Arthritis
Natural cartilage degeneration isn’t the only way that arthritis of the ankle sets in. Ankle injuries also play a direct role in the onset of the condition, and roughly 80 percent of people who have ankle arthritis say they’ve suffered one or more ankle fractures or sprains in the past. Other forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, also contribute to cartilage breakdown in the ankle.
Symptoms of the condition include:
Difficulty walking/Inhibited gait
Diagnosing and Treating Ankle Arthritis
If you are experiencing any or all of the above symptoms, head into your foot specialist’s office. The diagnostic process is pretty straightforward, with the doctor asking about your symptoms and then conducting a physical examination of the foot. They also may ask you to perform some range of motion exercises to see what movements are tolerable. From there, they will confirm the diagnosis with an imaging test.
X-rays are the most common imaging test, because they allow the doctor to see the narrowing of the space between bones, as well as to view the onset of any bone spurs that may be damaging cartilage or making movements painful. For a more precise diagnosis, a doctor may use an MRI or CT scan, but X-rays typically suffice.
Although there is no cure to reverse the damage done by arthritis, there are treatments to prevent further degeneration and alleviate symptoms. If degeneration is in its earliest stages, non-operative treatments are usually the most effective route, but if damage is severe, then surgery may be on the table.
Nonsurgical Treatment Options – Changing exercise routines to activities like swimming or cycling that put less stress on your feet, physical therapy and range of motion exercises, ankle braces, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections can all help in the short-term.
Surgical Treatment Options – Arthroscopic debridement surgery can remove loose cartilage or bone spurs around the joint. For others with more severe joint dysfunction, an ankle fusion procedure can help fix the joint in a permanent position to prevent pain and discomfort from movement. There is also the total ankle replacement operation, which involves inserting an artificial joint, similar to a hip or knee replacement.