Like any other joint in the body, the ankle can be affected by arthritis, a chronic condition that can cause pain, swelling and stiffness and an eventual loss of motion in the affected area. The ankle is the joint that connects the shinbone (tibia) to the upper bone of the foot (talus). Although the ankle is not affected by arthritis as commonly as other joints such as the hand and hip, it is still a serious condition that can cause severe pain for those affected.
Arthritis is classified as an inflammation of a joint, and can develop as a result of several different causes, but is most often from the degenerative wear and tear on a joint that occurs as we age. The bone ends of a joint are covered by a material called cartilage which helps to cushion the bone and allow for a smooth movement of the bones within the joint. As we age, this cartilage gradually wears away and leaves the bone ends rough and uncovered, causing symptoms to develop.
There are three main types of arthritis that can affect your ankle. These include:
- Osteoarthritis – This condition is common in older patients and is the result of a consistent wear and tear on the joint over time, which causes the smooth cartilage on the ends of the bones to become worn and frayed.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – This condition is a chronic immune system condition that can affect the entire body and causes inflammation as the body attacks and destroys its own cartilage.
- Post-Traumatic Arthritis – This condition develops after an injury, sometimes years after a fracture, and causes effects similar to osteoarthritis.
The cause of ankle arthritis can vary depending on the type of condition. It is believed that osteoarthritis is a genetic condition that tends to run in families. Athletes and other active patients may be at a higher risk for post-traumatic arthritis. An injury to the ankle, such as a fracture or repeated sprains, can often lead to arthritis, even years down the line.
Ankle arthritis can also be caused by an infection of the joint that causes damage to the cartilage cells, which cannot regrow, or by excessive pressure in patients who are obese.
Patients with arthritis of the ankle may not experience any symptoms as the cartilage holding the joint together becomes damaged. As the condition progresses, symptoms usually worsen and may include:
- Bone spurs
- Deformity of the joint
- Difficulty walking
If the nerves surrounding the joint become irritated as well, patients may experience numbness and tingling as well.
Treatment for ankle arthritis depends on the type and severity of the condition, but usually begins with the most conservative methods. Some patients may experience relief from their symptoms by wearing more comfortable shoes, wearing cushioned shoe inserts, limiting impact activities and wearing a brace. Anti-inflammatory medication and cortisone injections are often helpful in relieving pain temporarily, especially during flare ups.
If these treatments are unsuccessful, patients may benefit from more advanced treatments such as ankle arthroscopy, ankle fusion surgery or ankle replacement surgery. Dr. Deland will determine which treatment option is best for you based on your individual condition.
It is important to seek treatment for ankle arthritis as soon as possible to help prevent the condition from worsening. If you suspect that you may have ankle arthritis, you should see Dr. Deland right away. He will review your medical and family history, and perform a physical examination to diagnose this condition.
Although ankle arthritis usually cannot be prevented, there are certain measures you can take to help reduce your risk of developing this condition, along with many others.