Ankle arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that affects the ankle joint, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. This article aims to provide an overview of the causes, symptoms and treatment options for ankle arthritis.
Causes of Ankle Arthritis
Ankle arthritis can develop due to various factors, including:
The most common form of ankle arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the joints wears down over time. This can be a result of aging, repetitive stress on the ankle joint, previous injuries, obesity, genetic factors (ie a positive family history) or abnormal joint shape (as is the case in misaligned joints).
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. It can affect the ankle joint, causing inflammation, pain, and progressive joint damage.
Rheumatoid arthritis is usually a generalized disease, tending to affect several joints throughout the body at the same time. It is symmetrical, meaning that it usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body.
Ankle injuries, such as fractures, dislocations or severe sprains, can damage the joint surfaces and lead to post-traumatic arthritis. Like osteoarthritis, the arthritis is caused by the wearing away of the cartilage between the joint surfaces. Over time, this can result in the development of arthritis symptoms. This may occur many years after the initial injury. An injured joint is thought to be about seven times more likely than an uninjured joint to develop arthritis.
Symptoms of Ankle Arthritis
Ankle arthritis can cause a range of symptoms, which may vary in severity from person to person. Common signs and symptoms of ankle arthritis include:
Persistent pain in the ankle joint is the commonest and most troublesome symptom of ankle arthritis. It usually develops gradually over time. However, sudden onset is also possible. The pain may worsen with weight-bearing activities, such as walking or standing for long periods.
Ankle stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity or rest, is a typical symptom. It may take some time for the joint to “warm up” and become more mobile. With rheumatoid (inflammatory) arthritis the stiffness is often at its worst first thing in the morning.
Inflammation in the ankle joint can lead to swelling, causing discomfort and limited range of motion.The swelling may be accompanied by redness and warmth, particularly in inflammatory arthritis.
Limited Range of Motion
Ankle arthritis can restrict the joint’s ability to move fully. Activities like bending, flexing, or rotating the ankle may become challenging.
Weakening of the ankle joint due to arthritis can result in a feeling of instability or an increased risk of ankle sprains. The instability may be due to looseness of the ligaments and sometimes leads to the joint giving way.
Treatment Options for Ankle Arthritis
While there is no cure for ankle arthritis, various treatment options are available to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the arthritis and individual circumstances. Some common treatment approaches include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (advil) and naproxen (aleve) can help reduce pain, swelling and inflammation associated with ankle arthritis. In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered to provide temporary relief.
Physical therapy plays a crucial role in ankle arthritis management. A physical therapist can develop an exercise program to strengthen the muscles surrounding the ankle joint, improve flexibility, and enhance balance and stability.
Because exercises can sometimes aggravate the joint symptoms, the physical therapy program chosen by the therapist needs to be tailored to the individual patient.
The use of assistive devices, such as ankle braces, orthotic inserts, or specially designed shoes, can help support the ankle joint, reduce pain and improve mobility.
Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for reducing stress on the ankle joint. Weight management through a balanced diet and regular exercise can alleviate symptoms, increase joint function and slow the progression of ankle arthritis.
In some cases, minimally invasive procedures like ankle arthroscopy may be performed to remove damaged tissue (like loose cartilage or inflamed synovial tissue) or bone spurs, providing relief from pain and improving joint function.
This involves fusion of the bones of the joint completely, using pins, plates and screws or rods. Over time, the bones grow together, just like how the two ends of a broken bone grow together as it heals. Since there is no movement of the bones which previously formed the joint, there should be no more pain.
Total Ankle Replacement
For severe cases of ankle arthritis, where conservative treatments no longer provide relief, total ankle replacement surgery may be considered. This surgical procedure involves replacing the damaged ankle joint with an artificial implant, providing pain relief and restoring joint function. Ankle replacement tends to be reserved for patients with severe symptoms who are above the age of 60 years or so. This is so as to reduce the number of times the joint implant needs to be replaced during the remainder of the patient’s life.
Ankle arthritis can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life.
Early diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and lifestyle modifications can help manage symptoms, reduce pain, and maintain joint function.
It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment options based on individual circumstances and the severity of the arthritis.