Arthritis of the Foot & Ankle
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It can occur at any age, and literally means “pain within a joint.” As a result, arthritis is a term used broadly to refer to a number of different conditions.
Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options available. It is important to seek help early so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. With treatment, people with arthritis are able to manage pain, stay active, and live fulfilling lives, often without surgery.
There are three types of arthritis that may affect your foot and ankle.
Cause & Symptoms
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative or “wear and tear” arthritis, is a common problem for many people after they reach middle age. Over the years, the smooth, gliding surface covering the ends of bones (cartilage) becomes worn and frayed. This results in inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joint.
Osteoarthritis progresses slowly and the pain and stiffness it causes worsens over time.
Unlike osteoarthritis which follows a predictable pattern in certain joints, rheumatoid arthritis is a system-wide disease. It is an inflammatory disease where the patient’s own immune system attacks and destroys cartilage.
Post-traumatic arthritis can develop after an injury to the foot or ankle. This type of arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis and may develop years after a fracture, severe sprain, or ligament injury.
Signs and symptoms of arthritis of the foot vary, depending on which joint is affected. Common symptoms include:
Pain or tenderness
Stiffness or reduced motion
Difficulty walking due to any of the above
Your doctor will base a diagnosis using your medical history, symptoms, a physical examination, and additional tests.
Medical History and Examination
A medical history is important to understand more about the problem. Your doctor will want to know when the pain started and when it occurs. Is it worse at night? Does it get worse when walking or running? Is it continuous, or does it come and go?
He or she will want to know if there was a past injury to the foot or ankle. If so, your doctor will discuss your injury, when it occurred, and how it was treated.
Your doctor will want to know if the pain is in both feet or only in one foot, and where it is located exactly. Footwear will be examined, and any medications will be noted.
One of the tests performed during the physical examination is the gait analysis. This shows how the bones in the leg and foot line up with walking, measures stride, and tests the strength of the ankles and feet.
X-rays can show changes in the spacing between bones or in the shape of the bones themselves. Weight-bearing X-rays are the most valuable additional test in diagnosing the severity of arthritis.
A bone scan, computed tomographic (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance image (MRI) may also be used in the evaluation.