Ankle Arthritis

Ankle arthritis is a degenerative condition (also known as osteoarthritis) that can cause pain, stiffness, and disability of the ankles. Over time, the protective cartilage in the ankle begins to wear away, eventually causing the bones in the ankle to rub against each other. Ankle arthritis can be just as disabling as hip arthritis, but it is not as well-known as other types of arthritis. 

Unlike hip and knee arthritis, which tends to be an “old person’s” disease, ankle arthritis tends to affect a younger population because it often develops after an ankle injury like a fracture. Conditions like flat feet and even repetitive ankle sprains can also lead to degeneration of the ankle joints over time. 

At Peninsula Podiatry, our foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Sarah Neitzel offers a number of treatment and surgery options for ankle arthritis.

What are the symptoms of ankle arthritis?

Symptoms of ankle arthritis are often gradual, developing over time. Pain is one of the most common symptoms. Patients with arthritis may feel pain with motion, or after an extended period of rest or physical activity. 

Other symptoms include tenderness, swelling, and stiffness of the ankle joint. These symptoms can make it difficult to walk, and may eventually lead to significant disability. Proper treatment can help manage these symptoms.

Are there any risk factors associated with ankle arthritis?

The risk factors associated with ankle arthritis include age, obesity, and family history of the disease.

What can you expect during your ankle arthritis consultation?

During your exam, Dr. Neitzel will ask you questions about your medical history and any medications you may be taking. She will also examine your ankle for tenderness and swelling, and ask you questions about the pain you are experiencing, such as

  • Where exactly is the pain?
  • When did the pain start?
  • Is the pain continuous or does it come and go?
  • Does the pain feel worse in the morning or at night?
  • Does the pain get worse with activity, such as when walking or running?

You will also be asked to describe your injury, including when it occurred, and if you had received any prior treatment.

Gait Analysis

As part of your physical examination, Dr. Neitzel will observe your gait (the way you walk). This is an important assessment, as pain and joint stiffness from arthritis change the way you walk. A gait analysis helps Dr. Neitzel assess how the bones in your leg and foot line up when you walk, measure your stride, and test the strength of your ankles and feet.

Shoes

Dr. Neitzel will examine your shoes to determine if there is any abnormal or uneven wear to ensure that they are providing sufficient support for your foot and ankle.

The primary purpose of shoes is to protect your feet and prevent injury. Poorly fitted shoes can cause discomfort, injury and permanent deformity. Understanding the components of a shoe and the proper fit can help you make sensible shoe purchases. The most important quality to look for in shoes is durable construction and a good fit.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests help Dr. Neitzel determine the severity of your arthritis.

X-rays provide detailed images of your bones, as well as any narrowing of the joint space between bones (an indication of cartilage loss), fractures, and the formation of bone spurs.

Other imaging tests, such as a bone scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) may be ordered to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissues.

How do you treat ankle arthritis?

There is no cure for ankle arthritis, but the right treatments can alleviate your symptoms. At Peninsula Podiatry, Dr. Neitzel offers both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options to help you remain active and reduce or eliminate arthritis pain.

Nonsurgical

Nonsurgical treatment typically includes anti-inflammatory medications, activity modification, corticosteroid injections, topical anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, and bracing.

If Dr. Neitzel recommends physical therapy, it is important that you follow through with this recommendation and get the therapy prescribed.

If nonsurgical treatment does not adequately address the pain caused by ankle arthritis, surgical treatment options may be considered.

Surgical

Traditionally, surgical treatment for ankle arthritis has involved ankle arthrodesis, also known as ankle fusion. In this procedure, the damaged bone and cartilage in the ankle are removed, and the joint is held together with fixation devices like plates and screws so that the bones fuse together. However, this procedure eliminates the range of motion in the ankle, which can put stress on other joints to compensate for the lack of motion in the ankle. 

At Peninsula Podiatry, Dr. Neitzel offers the latest developments in ankle arthritis surgery that allow the ankle to retain a range of motion while also relieving pain. 

Recovery

Patients who undergo ankle arthritis surgery can expect to return to daily activities in 3 to 4 months and can expect a full recovery within 4 to 9 months.

After surgery, you can expect to have a cast applied to limit movement in your foot and ankle. You will also be advised to elevate your foot above the level of your heart for 1 to 2 weeks after surgery. Pain medication will be prescribed for a short time while you are home.

Additionally, Dr. Neitzel may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength in your foot and ankle and to restore range of motion.

Ankle Arthritis Treatment in Silverdale, Washington

At Peninsula Podiatry, Dr. Sarah Neitzel offers a full range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for ankle arthritis. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Neitzel, please call (360) 286-0404.