Understanding Ankle Osteoarthritis

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In ankle osteoarthritis, the ankle’s articular cartilage begins to degenerate, resulting in pain, stiffness and swelling of the ankle. It usually occurs as a result of ankle fractures or other past injury that may have healed, but accelerated “wear and tear” on cartilage in the joint.

Symptoms of Ankle Osteoarthritis

One of the major symptoms of osteoarthritis is ankle pain. Individuals will experience pain in the tibia, middle and back of the foot. Early in the progression of ankle osteoarthritis, one may experience pain during periods of movement or other activity. Commonly, it starts to be noticeable after walking, running, climbing stairs or standing for long periods of time. As the condition worsens with time, the pain may also start to be felt during times of rest and inactivity.

Ankle stiffness is another common symptom of ankle osteoarthritis. This is caused by swelling and bone friction in the ankle, making it stiff and less flexible. The swelling in the ankle is due to the erosion of the cartilage, which leaves the fibula, tibia, and talus bones to rub against one another. With the swelling come loss of flexibility and limited range of motion, which make it more difficult for patients to continue normal activities.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Among the most common causes of osteoarthritis in the ankle are:

  • Trauma and Underlying medical condition
    A study revealed that about 90% of people who develop ankle arthritis experience one of the main risk factors, i.e. they have had joint trauma or an underlying medical condition in the past.Because of the work the ankle does carrying your weight, it is prone to sprains, fractures and other injuries. The injuries may heal but the trauma may eventually lead to ankle osteoarthritis symptoms. Underlying conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis and reactive arthritis can also cause ankle osteoarthritis.
  • Joint strain and stress
    People who continuously exert strain on their ankles can easily develop osteoarthritis. For instance, a ballet dancer and a soccer player are more susceptible to ankle osteoarthritis given the constant stress placed on the joint.
  • Age
    Due to stress and continuous use of the ankle over decades, older people are likely to experience ankle arthritis. As a bio-mechanical “wear and tear” issue, the ankle joint’s cartilage becomes even more susceptible to damage as it hardens and becomes thinner with age.
  • Excess weight
    The ankle carries up to 5 times a person’s body weight while walking. Adding excess bodyweight will overload the joint, causing it to work less efficiently and resulting in tissue damage. Obesity can also cause individuals to change their walking gait. When this occurs, they may waddle, shuffle, or change their form in such a way that the ankle is not carrying the load correctly, leading to functional problems that aggravate ankle osteoarthritis.

Treating Ankle Osteoarthritis

Non-surgical treatment

Conservative treatments are best suited in the early stages of osteoarthritis, and commonly include one or more of the following approaches:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce the swelling of the joints.
  • Pain relievers to relieve aching pains
  • Inserts that supports the ankle
  • Weight control measures
  • Steroid medications injected into the joints (e.g. cortisone).
  • Exercising to increase strength and flexibility in the ankle joint.

Surgical treatment

If non-surgical treatments fail to relieve your ankle osteoarthritis symptoms, you may need to consider surgery. There are different surgical procedures that can be performed on an ankle joint with osteoarthritis:

  • Ankle arthroscopy – use of a tiny guide camera and special tools to minimize the incision area. Your podiatrist will attempt ankle arthroscopy in cases where joint tissue repair or removal of problems like bone spurs is viable.
  • Ankle fusion – This type of procedure involves “fusing” the joint so that it loses flexibility. Pins, rods and other hardware may be introduced to accomplish this in an effort to reduce pain.
  • Ankle replacement – Specialized implants are placed in the joint ankle. Unlike joint fusion, the implants used in total ankle arthroplasty (TAA) procedures are designed to replace the functional movement of the ankle. An added benefit of this procedure is that it may help curb the spread of progressive arthritis to other joints.

The type of surgery best suited to a patient will be based on a patient’s age, goals, activities, medical history, and other factors.

For an evaluation and treatment of any ankle problems, including osteoarthritis, call Houston Foot and Ankle Care at (713) 541-3199 to schedule an appointment with podiatric surgeon Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS. Don’t live with foot or ankle pain. We accept most forms of major medical insurance.

Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:

  • pain in the ankle during normal activity
  • stiffness or swelling in the ankle joint
  • reduced range of motion in the ankle
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Houston Foot and Ankle