Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

The joints in our body are covered with articular cartilage, a slippery substance that helps the bones glide smoothly over each other during movement. They are surrounded by a thin lining called the synovium which reduces friction. However, with arthritis that is especially common in the small joints of the foot and ankle, inflammation occurs – causing pain and stiffness. 

A foot and ankle with athritis

The symptoms of arthritis depend on the joint it affects, and the pain usually develops gradually over time, although sudden onset is also possible. Other common symptoms include:

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



Arthritis is commonly caused by these conditions:


Occurs due to wear and tear in which the cartilage becomes frayed and rough, resulting in the protective space between the bones decreasing and causing bone rubbing on bone. Other risk factors include obesity and a family history of the disease. 


Rheumatoid arthritis
An autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues, particularly the synovium, causing damage to the bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons – resulting in joint deformity and disability. 


Posttraumatic arthritis
Usually develops after an injury to the foot or ankle, such as dislocations or fractures. 


Your orthopaedic specialist will start off by asking you about your medical history, followed by a physical examination to check your foot and ankle for any tenderness and swelling. You may be asked to walk to assess any limping, which tells a lot about the severity and location of arthritis. 


You may also be required to undergo an X-ray, MRI scan or blood test to confirm the diagnosis and also to check for any underlying cause for the arthritis.


Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are several treatments that can help to relieve the symptoms. Non-surgical treatments include lifestyle modifications to avoid activities that worsen the pain, and physical therapy, to maintain joint range of motion and strengthen surrounding muscles. Using a brace or wearing shoe inserts (orthotics) can also help to reduce pressure or correct deformities in the foot and ankle. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications can go a long way to improving the symptoms. 


If conservative treatments prove to be ineffective, your orthopaedic specialist may recommend surgery especially if your pain causes disability. This can be in the form of arthroscopic (or keyhole) surgery to debride inflamed soft tissues, remove loose or unstable cartilage fragments and to smoothen bone spurs that block joint movement. For severe arthritis, it may be necessary to perform arthrodesis. This is a procedure to remove the damaged cartilage and bone of the joint, and fuse the bones together, thereby removing the source of pain. In selected cases of severe ankle arthritis, it may be possible to perform an ankle joint replacement (arthroplasty), thereby relieving the pain arising from the arthritis, while maintaining motion of the ankle joint.


Every case is different; hence it is best to consult an orthopaedic specialist for an accurate diagnosis so that you can obtain the best treatment option that is most suitable for you. Reach out to us today if you are suffering from arthritis of the foot and ankle and let us help you enjoy a better quality of life.