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Arthritis Of The Foot And Ankle

Dr. David Pagnanelli Jr.

Having arthritis can result in a great deal of pain and can affect the quality of life for those who have the disease. When arthritis is in the feet and ankles it can present a variety of challenges during day-to-day life, including an impact on mobility. The good news is that treatment is available.

Dr. David Pagnanelli Jr. of Keystone Foot and Ankle Center shares some information about how podiatrists can help patients with arthritis, and why seeing a doctor sooner rather than later is so important.

What is arthritis and what causes it?

Arthritis refers to a group of diseases that causes joint pain and swelling. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the most common form is Degenerative Arthritis, also known as Osteoarthritis. This arthritis comes into play when your cartilage, which should be smooth and slick to help your joints glide, becomes worn down.

A variety of factors affect one’s risk for developing arthritis and these factors include age, excessive weight, previous injuries and a family history.

How does arthritis affect the feet and ankles?

Everyone wants to walk, but arthritis can make walking difficult. All of your weight is transferred through the bones and joints of your ankles and feet. The excessive strain on these small joints can cause the cartilage to break down and can result in pain with every step you take. The bone on either side of the joint then starts to rub together, causing pain, swelling, stiffness and spurring.

How is arthritis in the feet and ankles treated?

Different types of arthritis are treated in various ways. Early treatment for osteoarthritis of the foot or ankle joints consists of specialized custom orthotics (shoe inserts). These hold your joints in an upright, aligned position during each step to reduce excess pressure and weight in one location on the joint surface. This helps create a more normal and functional walking pattern. We also use NSAIDS (pain relievers) and steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain as well as bracing and taping to help stabilize the joint.

Surgical intervention is also an option for end-stage arthritis. Depending on the severity of the arthritis, we surgically treat these joints by either simply cleaning up the arthritic spurring, or completely fusing the joint. By completely fusing the joint you eliminate the micro-motion and the sliding of the bone on bone and therefore eliminate the pain. We also can place joint implants for certain joints like the toe joints and the ankle joint. These can only be placed in certain patients who qualify for them.

When is surgery recommended?

When the pain becomes constant and non-invasive treatments have not been sufficient, and/or when there is no more cartilage left in the joint and you begin to create large bone spurs as a result, surgery may be recommended.

Is it important to keep your joints moving when you have arthritis of the foot or ankle?

Although arthritic pain is caused by moving your joints, if you completely stop moving you will add to the stiffness and you will get muscle fatigue and atrophy (loss of muscle mass and strength). It is good to have an exercise program to keep your joints moving but not to the excess that it produces pain. Most patients find that aquatic exercises are the best to alleviate pain and keep joints moving.

What are some tips for living with arthritis of the foot or ankle?

Know your limits and don’t overstress your joints. Try and find a healthy balance of exercise and rest. Also, it’s important that you don’t wait to see a doctor until your pain gets so bad that it hurts with every step. If treated early, your doctor may be able to help you manage your symptoms before they become severe. If you wait until your pain becomes constant, it might be too late for non-invasive treatments and surgery could be needed.


This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.