As you age, your chance of developing osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear, increases. The joint damage associated with osteoarthritis causes swelling, pain, and deformity. Here is information about how osteoarthritis affects the foot and ankle and information you can use to help you manage this debilitating condition.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases. The word "arthritis" means "joint inflammation." Arthritis involves inflammation and swelling in and around the body's joints and surrounding soft tissue. The inflammation can cause pain and stiffness.
In many kinds of arthritis, progressive joint deterioration occurs and the smooth "cushioning" cartilage in joints is gradually lost. As a result, the bones rub and wear against each other. Soft tissues in the joints also may begin to wear down. Arthritis can be painful and eventually result in limited motion, loss of joint function, and deformities in the joints affected.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, or "wear-and-tear" arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease or age-related arthritis, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop as people age. Inflammation and injury to the joint cause a breaking down of cartilage tissues, resulting in pain, swelling, and deformity. The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over many years, though there are occasional exceptions.
How Does Osteoarthritis Affect the Foot and Ankle?
Each foot has 28 bones and more than 30 joints. The following are the most common foot joints affected by osteoarthritis:
- The three joints of the foot that involve the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone, and the outer mid-foot bone
- The joint of the big toe and foot bone
- The joint where the ankle and shinbone meet
What Are the Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis?
Symptoms of foot and ankle osteoarthritis often include:
- Tenderness or pain
- Reduced ability to move, walk, or bear weight
- Stiffness in the joint
- Swelling in the joint
How Is Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of foot and ankle osteoarthritis most likely will involve:
How Is Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Treated?
Foot and ankle osteoarthritis can be treated in many ways. Nonsurgical methods to treat foot and ankle arthritis include:
- Steroid medications injected into the joints
- Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the joints
- Pain relievers
- Pads or arch supports
- Canes or braces to support the joints
- Inserts that support the ankle and foot (orthotics)
- Physical therapy
- Custom shoes
- Weight control
Tips on Foot Care With Osteoarthritis
The most essential element of foot care for people with foot and ankle osteoarthritis is to wear shoes that fit properly and feel comfortable. The following are things to look for in finding a comfortable shoe:
- Shoes shaped like your foot
- Shoes that have support -- for example, no slip-on shoes
- Rubber soles to provide more cushioning
- Proper fit -- ask the salesperson to help you with this
Exercise can help keep your feet pain-free, strong, and flexible. Exercises that can be good for your feet include:
- Achilles stretch. With your palms flat on a wall, lean against the wall and place one foot forward and one foot back. Lean forward, leaving your heels on the floor. You can feel the pull in your Achilles tendon and your calf. Repeat this exercise three times, holding for 10 seconds on each repeat.
- Big-toe stretch. Place a thick rubber band around your big toes. Pull the big toes away from each other and toward the other toes. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times.
- Toe pull. Place a rubber band around the toes of each foot, and then spread your toes. Hold this position for five seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times.
- Toe curl. Pick up marbles with your toes.
Is Surgery an Option for Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis?
More than one kind of surgery may be required to treat foot and ankle osteoarthritis. Your doctor can select the kind of surgery that is best for you, depending on the extent of your arthritis. The following are some of the surgical options for foot and ankle osteoarthritis:
- Fusion surgery. This kind of surgery, also called arthrodesis, involves fusing bones together with the use of rods, pins, screws, or plates. After healing, the bones remain fused together.
- Joint replacement surgery. This kind of surgery involves replacing the ankle joint with artificial implants and is used only in rare cases.