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Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Foot and Ankle Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery

Arthritis is the presence of inflammation in your joints. The word arthritis serves as an umbrella term for over 100 diseases. Since the foot and ankle are made up of many joints, arthritis in these areas can make it difficult for you to perform everyday tasks such as walking. As arthritis progresses, the affected joint’s soft tissue structures and cartilage erode, causing bone-on-bone friction that can cause pain, weakness, and loss of mobility.

What Causes Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

Arthritis of the foot and ankle usually happens as a result of normal wear and tear as a result of aging, as the result of an injury, or due to an autoimmune disease.

Types of arthritis that may affect the foot and ankle

  • Osteoarthritis – arthritis that happens after years of wear and tear as the natural result of aging
  • Post-traumatic arthritis – arthritis that occurs after an injury such as a dislocation or fracture
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to attack your joints. This type of arthritis usually happens to the same joint on each side of your body.

Foot and Ankle Arthritis Risk Factors

Trauma or injury to the joint, a family history of osteoarthritis, obesity, and an underlying medical condition such as rheumatoid arthritis are all risk factors for developing arthritis in the foot and ankle.

Symptoms of  Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Arthritis include:

  • Inability to walk or pain with walking
  • Swelling, warmth, or redness in the affected area
  • Pain that gets worse with sitting or after sleeping
  • Pain after sports or vigorous activity
  • Pain during activities or movement of the affected area 
  • Stiffness of the affected joint
  • In extreme cases, joint deformity

How is Foot and Ankle Arthritis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will collect your medical history, paying attention to family history of arthritis and any past injuries you may have suffered to your foot and ankle. After listening to your symptoms, including when they began and what worsens or alleviates your symptoms, your doctor will perform a gait analysis to determine the location and severity of your foot and ankle arthritis as you walk. 

Imaging tests such as weight-bearing X-rays to determine the health of your cartilage, CT scans to show a more detailed picture, or MRIs to show soft tissue damage may be performed.

If your doctor suspects something like rheumatoid arthritis, they may recommend a blood test.

Treatment for Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Foot and ankle arthritis has no cure, but your symptoms can be managed nonsurgically and surgically.


Conservative, nonsurgical treatments include losing weight to reduce pressure on your feet and ankles, and modifying your activities to reduce exacerbating the condition. If you are an avid runner, you might substitute some or all of your workouts with biking or swimming to reduce the pounding on your feet and ankles. Physical therapy to help strengthen your feet and ankles, and increase your range of motion may help manage the pain. If physical therapy worsens the pain, your doctor will recommend you discontinue the therapy. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs, or cortisone injections may help relieve your pain. Braces for your ankles or inserts for your shoes to improve your gait may also help you manage your pain.


If nonsurgical treatments do not relieve your pain, your doctor may recommend surgery, such as arthroscopic debridement, in which the surgeon removes loose bodies (bone, or cartilage) in the joint in order to alleviate your pain. If your pain is severe, your doctor may perform a surgery called arthrodesis that fuses the affected joint in order to reduce your pain. In extreme cases, you may elect to have a total ankle replacement, in which your doctor will replace the diseased joint with a metal or plastic implant. 

Foot and Ankle Arthritis Recovery Time

Recovery from foot and ankle arthritis surgery can be anywhere from 4-9 months depending on the type of surgery. If you elect to use nonsurgical methods to alleviate your pain, you may see positive results during or after implementation. However, since there is no cure, most of these methods will manage rather than eliminate your pain entirely.

How Can I Prevent Foot and Ankle Arthritis?

You may not be able to prevent foot and ankle arthritis since it is often caused by simple wear and tear caused by aging, old injuries to the foot and ankle, or rheumatoid arthritis. However, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, regular stretching and exercise, and consulting your doctor in case of foot or ankle injuries that may need care to prevent future arthritic changes may help prevent foot and ankle arthritis. 

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