Arthritis often occurs in the feet and ankles. Nearly half of people aged over 60 have ankle arthritis but don’t notice any symptoms. Arthritis in feet and ankles, when not treated early, can prevent you from leading a healthy and active lifestyle. It may even lead to other serious illnesses. The impact of ankle arthritis on your life can be more serious than you might think. In this guide, we provide the knowledge you need to manage your ankle arthritis: causes, symptoms, and effective treatments.
Arthritis ankle is a degenerative condition in which the the ankle’s articular cartilage thins and begins to break down. After that, abnormal bony growths develop around the joint. Inside a healthy ankle joint is cartilage about 1 to 1.7 mm thick. It is tough and dense. Once the smooth cartilage lining is lost, however, an inflamed tissue known as synovitis occurs.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint inflammation. You may have osteoarthritis ankle or rheumatoid arthritis ankle. Although the two share a few similar characteristics, each has different causes and paths of progression. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, while ankle osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear of the joint.
Understanding the root cause of your arthritis ankle pain may help your doctor recommend an effective course of treatment. The condition most commonly results from five major causes.
Family History: The chances of developing ankle arthritis is increased by a genetic predisposition.
Advanced Age: The likelihood of developing arthritis in ankle joints increases with age. The ankle cartilage thins over time.
Joint Stress: If your regular activities stress your ankles—such as extreme sports or rigorous workout routines—you’re more likely to suffer from arthritis in your feet and ankles.
Underlying Medical Conditions: Studies found out that 10–15% of reported cases of ankle arthritis are due to an underlying medical condition. Examples are blood disorders, congenital structural defects, rheumatoid arthritis, and conditions that cause poor circulation.
Joint Trauma: The ankle is vulnerable to sprains and other accidents. If a joint has suffered a traumatic injury, it is more prone to ankle arthritis, or “post-traumatic arthritis ankle.” The damage from the injury may heal in time, but the trauma can lead to serious joint changes.
Ankle Arthritis Symptoms
The symptoms of arthritis in ankle and foot are different depending on which joint is affected. When left untreated, the condition can slowly worsen over time and may interfere with your daily routine. As sudden onset is also possible, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Here are the typical signs of arthritis in ankle.
Throbbing Pain: Certain activities, such as walking or jogging, put strain on your ankle joint and result in excruciating pain. The pain may be sharp and intense or aching and dull. Once the condition progresses, the pain can be a frequent occurrence. You may experience chronic pain in the back of the foot, in the lower shin (tibia), or in the middle of your foot.
Swelling: When the ankle cartilage is damaged, the talus, fibula, and tibia bones can grind against one another. This leads to arthritis ankle swelling and irritation.
Joint Stiffness: Bone-on-bone friction makes the ankle stiff. So when your ankle’s range of motion becomes limited, it’s complicated to point and flex your toes.
Popping or Crunching Sound: Don’t ignore it when you hear a squeaking sound when flexing your toes, or when you sense a crunching. This is a sure sign that the cartilage is damaged and can no longer protect your bones from fiction.
Ankle Instability: Running or extended walking may often cause the ankle to buckle or lock. This is because joint pain and stiffness change the way you walk.
Diagnosing Arthritis Ankle
If you’re experiencing one of the symptoms of arthritis ankle listed above, make an appointment with a specialist as soon as possible. Your condition can be diagnosed with a comprehensive physical exam, a full medical history, and imaging technology.
Your doctor will check your ankle for tenderness, bone spurs, joint damage, and range of motion. Your doctor may also inspect your shoes for uneven wear. Imaging tests can confirm arthritis in ankle joints—MRIs, arthrocentesis scans, 3D pedCATs, X-rays, and radiographs.
Ankle Arthritis Treatment Methods
Don’t dismiss the pain in your ankle, simply attributing it to old age. Consult your doctor right away. The sooner you begin treatment, the better your chances of preserving joint function for years. Listed below are available treatments for arthritis in ankle joints to manage the pain and slow down the degenerative process.
There are two types of injections to provide temporary relief from ankle arthritis pain: hyaluronic acid (hyaluronate) injections and steroid injections. Hyaluronic acid injections lubricate the ankle joints to avoid bone-on-bone friction. Steroid injections, on the other hand, lessen swelling and ease pain.
Orthopedic Supportive Devices
If you’re suffering from ankle arthritis, you will find it harder to walk each day. A specialist may suggest using certain orthopedic products to help stabilize your ankle. Talk to your doctor about solutions for your particular situation. Some examples include:
Insoles are an easy way to make the shoes you already own more effective for relieving ankle arthritis pain. ( See Product )
A doctor may recommend wearing high-quality insoles to discourage ankle rolling and reduce the pressure placed on the ankle joint when standing all day. If there is a deformity, a gel insole may help correct it, relieving pain in the arthritic joint.
Crutches help take stress off your arthritic ankle as you move. If you’re experiencing severe pain, you will need crutches to walk around.
Canes both keep you safe from falls and reduce the impact of walking and standing on your joint health. ( See Product )
Using a cane will help you be more independent and safer in your everyday routine. The most reliable canes lessen the impact on your ankle joints and help you maintain good posture. Whether you choose a collapsible cane, a quad cane, or an offset cane, using one will prevent slipping and missteps. There are different types of canes, so find one that will give you the best balance.
A walker eases ankle arthritis symptoms at an affordable cost. A folding walker, for instance, helps you walk smoothly—it is designed for ease of use. In addition, it folds up easily so you can transport it in and out of your car and bring it wherever you want.
A walker is a convenient, portable way to make ankle arthritis much more manageable. (See Product)
An arthritis ankle brace is made to relieve pain and discomfort. The neoprene fabric is soft, lightweight, and breathable, which provides excellent comfort. Choose an ankle support with adjustable straps so you can customize the support to your exact specifications. A brace will reduce strain on your ankle to maximize performance during daily activities or sports.
Ankle braces stabilize and support your joint to relieve pain and prevent further damage. (See Product)
When your ankle hurts, staying active can be difficult. Fortunately, there are specific ankle arthritis exercises to stretch your ankle joint’s soft tissues, improve your muscle functioning, increase your comfort level, and increase your blood circulation. A physical therapist can give you an individualized exercise program to keep the ankle joints lubricated and prevent further cartilage loss. In some cases, however, physical therapy may intensify arthritis ankle pain. Be sure to start every exercise slowly. Don’t forget to consult your doctor prior to beginning any exercise routine.
Step 1: Sit in a straight-backed chair and put a towel on the floor in front of your chair.
Step 2: Place your feet on the towel. Make sure your heels are on the edge.
Step 3: Slowly, pull the towel using your toes. You will be moving your ankle and arching your feet as you do this.
Step 4: Rest for 5 seconds, then start pulling the towel again.
Step 5: Repeat this exercise several times a day.
Step 1: Sit with your back supported by a wall or chair.
Step 2: Gently straighten your knee.
Step 3: Make 10 clockwise circles with your toes.
Step 4: Return to the original position and relax for 5 seconds.
Step 5: Straighten your leg again. Make another 10 large circles, this time in a counterclockwise direction.
Step 1: Sit in a chair and put your feet firmly on the floor.
Step 2: Lift your arthritic ankle and place it on top of your other ankle.
Step 3: Gently press your arthritic foot into your other foot.
Step 4: Hold this position for about 10 seconds. Then relax for 5 seconds.
Step 5: Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Step 1: Sit in a chair with your legs straightened and spread slightly apart.
Step 2: Point your toes up so the soles of your feet are flat. Then point your toes downward and hold for a 10-count.
Step 3: Perform this exercise 10 times with each foot at least twice a day.
Standing Calf Raises
Step 1: Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Step 2: Gently raise your heels until you are on your tiptoes, then return to the starting position.
Step 3: Perform 20 repetitions a day.
Certain medications can alleviate ankle arthritis symptoms. These include oral analgesics, oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), lidocaine patches, topical analgesics, and topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Always read drug labels and discuss any new medications with your doctor. It’s important to consider potential side effects and interactions with other medicines, supplements, or vitamins.
While painful, arthritic ankles may discourage you from being physically active, inactivity is harmful. In fact, it may cause other serious health problems. Just because you have ankle arthritis doesn’t mean you have to stop living. You must take an active part in your treatment program. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the long run. For instance, avoid activities that will aggravate the arthritic ankle joint. Instead of jogging, try swimming or cycling. Ask your doctor for adaptive strategies or alternatives to everyday routines that trigger discomfort.
Sometimes, lifestyle changes are not enough to alleviate arthritis symptoms. In severe cases, in which the pain causes disability, surgical intervention may be required. Examples of surgeries to relieve ankle arthritis include ankle arthrodiastasis, ankle debridement, ankle fusion, and ankle replacement. Determining the appropriate type of surgery will depend on the location of the arthritis and the impact of the condition on your ankle joints. Sometimes, a doctor may suggest more than one type of surgery.
Regardless of the condition of your ankle, your doctor will prescribe a treatment that is suited to your needs. Several factors will be considered, including your age, bone quality, body weight, alignment, activity level, and severity of ankle arthritis.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of arthritis ankle, getting an accurate diagnosis, and following your doctor’s recovery plan will help you achieve healthy ankle function.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.