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 foot 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 foot is closely related to osteoarthritis of the ankle.
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 foot?
The foot has 26 bones in it. There are a number of small joints between these bones. Osteoarthritis can affect the articular cartilage of any or all of these small joints. Articular cartilage is the smooth coating that covers the surface of the bones inside the small joints of the foot. 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 small joints of the foot, further irritating the joint(s). After a long period of time the cartilage can become completely “worn away” and the bones begin to rub together. The most common joints affected are the subtalar joint, the first cuneiform, first metatarsal joint and the first MTP joint (hallux rigidus).
What does osteoarthritis of the foot feel like?
Osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly and results in pain, stiffness and/or swelling of the affected joints. Bumps or nodes may appear around the affected joints. When the joints are moved a grating sound may be heard. Sometimes the foot can have a mild amount of osteoarthritis and feel perfectly fine.
How is osteoarthritis of the foot detected?
Most types of treatment for osteoarthritis of the foot 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 foot can be diagnosed based on the medical history and physical examination of the affected joint(s). 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 foot?
No one knows for sure what causes osteoarthritis to develop in the small joints of the foot but some risk factors include:
- Previous foot injury or fracture
- Family history of osteoarthritis
- Being overweight
- Damage to the small joints of the foot from another type of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
- Increasing age
What is the treatment for osteoarthritis of the foot?
Every osteoarthritic foot 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 foot?
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.