Ankle arthritis

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What is ankle arthritis?

As we get older, we have a high risk of developing osteoarthritis – a condition usually caused by joint wear and tear. This means that deterioration around your ankle joint occurs and the smooth “cushioning” cartilage in your joints is gradually lost. This can cause pain, swelling, deformity, and impaired mobility.

What causes ankle arthritis?

Ankle arthritis is typically caused by normal wear and tear as we age, known as osteoarthritis. It can also be caused by an old injury like a fractured or broken ankle. Sometimes the only reason for ankle arthritis is ageing. The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over the years and it can take a long time to first notice symptoms.

There are other systemic conditions that can cause arthritis of the ankle. These include:

What are the early signs and symptoms of ankle arthritis?

The pain you may feel when you have arthritis in your ankle includes:

  • Tenderness of the ankle when being touched
  • Reduced mobility due to difficulty weight-bearing
  • Stiffness to your ankle joint
  • Swelling around your ankle

How is ankle arthritis diagnosed?

A doctor or physiotherapist may require the following to assist in their diagnosis:

  • Full medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Imaging (X-rays or MRI scan) to help with the diagnosis
  • Asking about your lifestyle choices and the type of exercise you do
  • Asking if you have had any past injuries to your ankle

These questions together with a physical examination aids your doctor and or/physiotherapist in diagnosing ankle arthritis and determining a treatment plan for you

Is surgery an option for ankle arthritis?

There are various types of surgeries that can help you if you have ankle arthritis. Your doctor will explains this and suggest what is best for you depending on the severity of your condition:

  • Fusion surgery – this involves fusing the bones together with rods, pins and screws, and after healing the bones will remain fused together
  • Joint replacement surgery – this involves replacing the ankle joint with an artificial implant (this surgery is rare and only used in extreme cases)

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis?

Although rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis both affect your joints and can be very painful, they are both very different forms of the same condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition while osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition. Osteoarthritis is often related to a joint being overused and degenerating over time, particularly with age.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system goes into overload and the white blood cells start to attack their own joints. Medication is often required to control the immune system overdrive and this will be prescribed by a rheumatologist. Common medication for this includes steroids and methotrexate, which is used to control the condition and keep the pain and swelling at bay.

The main difference between the symptoms for both conditions is that with rheumatoid arthritis, the pain and swelling often presents itself on both sides of the body and usually starts with the hands and feet, possibly lasting all day. With osteoarthritis, the pain eases after 30 minutes or so in the morning and once you start moving. It also usually presents itself with an initial one-sided joint pain.

People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to suffer with fatigue than those with osteoarthritis.

Living with osteoarthritis and chronic pain

Chronic pain is a very common problem for people with osteoarthritis and can lead to an inability to work, enjoy life, and stay active. It can also cause the inability to sleep, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It is therefore vital that we get the right care in place as soon as possible.

If you have osteoarthritis you can experience chronic pain. But in addition to inflammation and joint damage, there are psychological and emotional factors to consider, too.

Anxiety and depression can worsen your pain and affect your body. If you are prone to anxiety, you are more likely to develop chronic pain that is more intense. You will also have a harder time coping with the pain than someone not suffering from any anxiety.

The first step to living with chronic pain is getting the right treatment. This means working closely with your doctor and specialists to develop a pain management plan that is unique for you and helps with daily life and activities.

What is the best treatment for ankle arthritis?

Some of the many ways to manage ankle arthritis include:

  • Intermittent resting and pacing yourself
  • Ice or heat compressions
  • Steroid injections into the ankle joint
  • Anti-inflammatory medication to take the swelling and pain down
  • Wearing orthotics to help keep your foot in the correct position when walking
  • An ankle brace or support to keep your joint in the correct position when mobile
  • Physiotherapy to strengthen the joint
  • If you need to lose weight this will help all your joints, especially your ankle joint
  • Invest in a good pair of walking shoes to support your feet and ankles
  • Acupuncture
  • Using a walking aid to take pressure off your foot

How physiotherapy can help your ankle arthritis

We will do whatever we can to get you on the fastest route to recovery. Some of the treatment methods we use include:

  • Mobilisation
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Myofascial trigger point release
  • Pilates
  • Cross-friction massage
  • Stretching and range of movement exercises
  • Acupuncture
  • Functional exercises


Ready to recover?

Call us on 020 7096 0684
You can discuss your requirements with one of our specialist case managers