In order to understand this condition, it is important to understand the anatomy and function of the foot. Please read Foot Pain Info’s section on basic ankle anatomy. For additional background information on the biomechanics of the foot please read Foot Pain Info’s section on basic foot and ankle biomechanics. Osteoarthritis of the ankle is closely related to osteoarthritis of the foot.
What is osteoarthritis?
The word arthritis means inflammation (swelling) of a joint. Osteoarthritis, also called “wear and tear” arthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It is estimated that osteoarthritis affects one out of every ten Canadians and that 85% of Canadians over the age of 70 will have osteoarthritis in at least one of their joints.
What is osteoarthritis of the ankle?
Articular cartilage is the smooth coating that covers the surface of the bones inside the ankle. Articular cartilage also cushions and helps lubricate the joint surfaces. In osteoarthritis the articular cartilage begins to degrade. Over time the articular cartilage can thin or form cracks. Tiny pieces of cartilage may come loose and float inside the ankle, further irritating the joint. After a long period of time the cartilage can become completely “worn away” and the bones begin to rub together.
What does osteoarthritis of the ankle feel like?
Osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly and results in pain, stiffness and/or swelling of the affected joint. Bumps or nodes may appear around the ankle. When the ankle is moved a grating sound may be heard. Sometimes the ankle can have a mild amount of osteoarthritis and feel perfectly fine.
How is osteoarthritis of the ankle detected?
Most types of treatment for osteoarthritis of the ankle work best when started early, before there is a lot of “wear and tear”. For this reason establishing a correct diagnosis is very important. In some cases osteoarthritis of the ankle can be diagnosed based on the medical history and physical examination of the affected ankle. An x-ray may be ordered to determine how much joint damage there is. Sometimes blood tests or joint fluid tests are ordered to confirm the diagnosis or to distinguish between different types of arthritis. Other tests like bone scans or MRI’s are not usually required.
What causes osteoarthritis of the ankle?
No one knows for sure what causes osteoarthritis to develop in the ankle but some risk factors include:
- Previous ankle injury or fracture
- Family history of osteoarthritis
- Being overweight
- Damage to the ankle from another type of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
- Increasing age
What is the treatment for osteoarthritis of the ankle?
Every osteoarthritic ankle is different, and there should be a team approach to treatment. Proper footwear is very important. Other treatment options include exercises to improve range of motion and strength, medications to relieve pain and swelling, education on activity modification, weight loss, heat/cold therapy, shoe orthotics, injections and in some cases surgery. Doctors and physical therapists that deal with people who have osteoarthritis can help outline a treatment program.
Is there a cure for osteoarthritis?
A lot can be done to help people who have osteoarthritis. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, control swelling and maintain or improve mobility of the affected joints but unfortunately there is no known cure for osteoarthritis.
What other information is available on osteoarthritis of the ankle?
Foot Pain Info ‘s links section has additional information on this topic. Links have been provided to other websites as well as online medical journals. Visit Joint Pain Info for information on other joint injuries and problems.