Foot and Ankle Arthritis

What is foot and ankle arthritis?

Arthritis refers to pain, deformity, stiffness and inflammation of joints. There are more than 30 joints in the foot and ankle – many of which can be affected by arthritis. The types of arthritis that occur in the foot and ankle are:

  • osteoarthritis – degenerative wear and tear of joint cartilage
  • rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune disease that destroys the joint covering
  • post-traumatic arthritis – develops after an injury such as a fracture or dislocation that damages the joint cartilage

What are the symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis?

The symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis depend on which joint is affected. You may experience:

  • pain that tends to be worse with activity and when you get up in the morning
  • tenderness when the joint is pressed
  • swelling over the affected joint

The pain may be bad enough that you have trouble walking.

What does your doctor look for?

Your doctor will take your medical history, asking about your symptoms, any injuries, your lifestyle and your general health. Your doctor will also perform a physical examination include looking at and feeling (or palpating) your feet and ankles.

You may be asked to walk around so that your doctor can assess your gait. Your shoes might also be checked for uneven wear.

What investigations are needed?

The most common investigation is an X-ray. Your doctor may order weight-bearing X-rays, which are taken while standing and are useful for determining the severity of the arthritis.

Other tests that may be necessary include a bone scan, a CT scan or an MRI scan.

How is foot and ankle arthritis treated?

There is no cure for arthritis but there are several very effective treatments. All have the same goals – to control pain and improve the function of the foot and ankle so that you can move better and get on with everyday living.

Treatments include:

  • therapy (eg minimising activities that cause pain, losing weight, physiotherapy, walking sticks, braces)
  • medications (egoral anti-inflammatories or joint injections)
  • surgery (eg arthroscopy, arthrodesis and arthroplasty)

Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.

Surgery for foot and ankle arthritis

There are several different surgical procedures used to treat foot and ankle arthritis. Treatment options are dependent upon location, type and severity of your arthritis. Options include:

  • arthroscopic debridement – this is ‘keyhole’ surgery where your surgeon places a tiny camera into the affected joint and then using tiny instruments, removes damaged tissue, loose bits of cartilage and any bony spurs <<link to treatment foot and ankle arthritis>>
  • arthrodesis – this refers to fusion of the joint, which reduces pain by stopping the affected bones from moving (and grating) against each other <<link to treatment foot and ankle arthritis>>

Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.

Post-op rehabilitation

Surgery can rapidly relieve pain from arthritis, but it’s normal to feel discomfort for a while after surgery. To help with pain, your foot and ankle will probably be placed into a cast straight after surgery, this reduces pain from movement and helps bones heal. You’ll most likely be given pain medication and also asked to keep your foot elevated to prevent swelling.

Your physiotherapist will help you strengthen your foot and ankle, and improve your range of motion. You may also be fitted with supportive shoe or brace.

Depending on which surgery you have, it can take several months for complete recovery.In most cases, you will be able to resume normal daily activity within 3–4 months.

Possible complications

The potential complications depend on which surgery you have.

Arthroscopy tends to have few complications as it is used for less severe arthritis. Complications include infection (rare) and failure to completely resolve the symptoms due to arthritis. Arthroscopy may occasionally speed up the deterioration of an arthritic joint.

Some complications specifically related to arthrodesis include infection, failure for bones to fuse (non-union); problems with the pins or screws used to hold the bones together anddevelopment of arthritis in adjacent joints due to extra stress being placed on these.

Complications of ankle replacement surgery include infection and implant failure (breaking or loosening). In some cases, the implant will need to be replaced with a new one. This is called revision surgery and it is generally more difficult to do than the first surgery.