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Ankle Arthritis: A Comprehensive Guide To Handle Ankle Pain

Ankle Arthritis

Ankle Arthritis - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

30-Second-Summary
  • Arthritis causes inflammation in joints.
  • The CDC warns that more than 67 million people may have arthritis by 2025.
  • More than 100 forms of arthritis may strike the body.
  • Arthritis may affect one or more joints.
  • Knee or hip arthritis is the most common area where arthritis strikes.
  • Different forms of arthritis may cause ankle pain.
  • Obesity has a close association with ankle arthritis.
  • Ankle arthritis causes pain and difficulty moving the lower extremities.
  • Ankle arthritis restricts the patient's mobility.
  • The affected areas may swell, turn red and stiff, and make moving painful.
  • Ankle pain may be intense in the morning.
  • There are ankle arthritis treatment plans that your doctor may discuss with you.
  • Patients can explore many non-surgical and surgical options to alleviate ankle arthritis pain.

Introduction

According to the CDC, over 58.5 million people suffer from doctor-diagnosed arthritis in the US. If your ankles hurt, could it be arthritis? With aging, the chance of arthritis increases. Over 100 forms of arthritis have been identified, and arthritis involves joint inflammation and swelling.

Several factors may cause arthritis, including obesity, joint degeneration, family history, autoimmune disorders, etc. Arthritis can affect any or multiple joints in the body. The prevalence of ankle arthritis is lower than the other variants. A systematic study[1] mentions that 9% to 15% of adults in the US have ankle OA.

What Is Ankle Arthritis?

If you find your joints stiff and painful after you wake up in the morning, you may have a type of arthritis. Arthritis causes joint inflammation, and so far, over 100 types of arthritis have been identified. Ankle arthritis is a less common type that damages the tibiotalar or the ankle joint. The bones involved in ankle arthritis are the tibia, fibula, and talus. All three bones or any one of these can be affected with ankle arthritis. Ankle arthritis is a chronic disorder.

The types of arthritis that can cause arthritis in the ankle are:

  • Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is degenerative arthritis that may affect people of any age. As the cartilage slowly degenerates, the gap that protects the joints from rubbing each other decreases. Osteoarthritis may affect the heel bone joints, the ankle and shinbone joint, and the big toe and foot bone joint.
  • Arthritis in the ankle

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – Like other joints in the body, rheumatoid arthritis may affect the ankles too. The condition may start at the toe joints in the foot and spread to the larger joints. In most patients with RA in the foot and ankles, the joints are inflamed, swollen, and red. The pain and stiffness could be intense in the morning and disrupts mobility.
  • Gout – If one fine morning, you feel intense pain in your ankles, if you find them swelling, hot, and red, it could be a sign of gouty arthritis. Gout is a common inflammatory disease that causes intense ankle arthritis pain. It often targets the foot and ankle. Too much uric acid buildup could be a reason for gout. Lifestyle factors such as diet and alcohol consumption may cause gout. Men can be affected with gout in their 20s and 30s, and women may have it once they hit the post-menopause phase.
  • Post-traumatic Arthritis – Trauma is one of the ankle arthritis causes. Persons with an injury in the ankle or foot may develop ankle arthritis.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis – Individuals with psoriatic arthritis experience mild to severe foot pain. It impacts foot joints, including the ankles. The ankles could swell and cause pain and stiffness.

The Causes Of Ankle Arthritis

Ankle arthritis pain can affect your quality of living as it restricts movements and causes intense pain in the ankles. There are different types of arthritis, but the following are considered responsible for ankle arthritis:

  • OsteoarthritisOsteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disorder and can severely damage the ankle joint. Ankle joints, a synovial hinge joint, consist of the tibia, fibula, and talus. The foot and ankle support us when we stand, walk, and run. They also help maintain balance and absorb shock. The end of the bones in joints are covered with a slippery substance – articular cartilage. In arthritic ankles, the cartilage becomes thinned or damaged. New cartilage growth lacks smoothness and causes frictions between the tibia and talus. The growth of bone spurs makes the friction greater and causes pain in the ankle joint.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and may affect any part of the body, including the foot and ankle. RA damages synovium – the ultra-thin, fluid-filled lining and synovial fluid present inside the movable joints in the body. The joints enlarge because of inflammation. Prolonged inflammation makes the synovium thick and degenerate bones and cartilage that cause severe pain and limit the range of motion. Patients with ankle arthritis pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis find it difficult to stand and walk. In severe cases, wearing shoes can be extremely painful.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis – One of the main reasons for arthritis in the ankle is post-traumatic arthritis. The joint surface can be damaged by dislocations and fractures, resulting in post-traumatic arthritis.
  • Gout – Gout is one of the common forms of arthritis and can affect the ankles. Gout causes joint inflammation and is extremely painful. Persons with high levels of urates in the blood have the risk of gout. When the urates are high in the blood, the kidneys fail to eliminate them, resulting in the deposit of sharp urate crystals in and around the joint tissues causing pain and swelling.

If you wake up in the morning with ankle stiffness and pain, it could be a sign of ankle arthritis. The ankle arthritis symptoms depend on the types of arthritis that causes it, pain being common.

Classic Signs And Symptoms Of Ankle Osteoarthritis You Should Know

Ankle Osteoarthritis
Ankle pain is one of the most common ankle arthritis symptoms. You may hear a crunching noise as you move your feet and ankles. When osteoarthritis strikes, the ligaments become weak. Pain is felt in the lower shin, back, and middle of the foot.

The joints become stiff and rigid. Osteoarthritis also damages the ankle cartilage. Degeneration of ankle cartilage results in friction between the fibula, tibia, and talus bones. The ankle produces more joint fluid to lower the friction that results in swelling.

Psoriatic arthritis may cause severe ankle arthritis pain. Sufferers undergo swelling, stiffness, pain, and tenderness in and around the ankles. The stiffness and swelling are most intense in the morning, which eases with activities.

Gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis in the ankle, can cause pain, swelling, and tenderness of the joint. Sometimes, you may notice stiffness, redness, and burning pain when flare-ups occur.

Rheumatoid arthritis may strike both the ankles badly. The ankle may ache in the morning or at night. RA patients with ankle arthritis may experience pain, stiffness, inflammation, swelling in the back of the heel, skin around the heel unduly warm to touch, pain in the ligament, lack of balance, and unsteady movement. The symptoms aggravate if the patients stand for a long duration or walk or run.

Psoriatic ankle arthritis comes with similar joint stiffness, pain, and redness symptoms as other types of arthritis do. Persons with psoriatic ankle arthritis may experience flares when the symptoms aggravate.

Is There A Cure For Ankle Arthritis? Available Treatments Of Ankle Arthritis

A complete cure for arthritis is not available. Depending on the severity, you may treat the symptoms to alleviate the discomfort and pain.

Both surgical and non-surgical treatment options are available. If arthritis in the ankle shows the symptoms of osteoarthritis, you may consider the following non-surgical options for improving the symptoms:

1. Non-Surgical Treatment For Ankle Arthritis

Modify daily exercises

  • Lifestyle Alteration – Lifestyle modification may help manage ankle arthritis pain. You may modify daily exercises and activities that don’t increase ankle pain.
  • Lose Weight – Maintaining a healthy weight helps overweight people lower their joint discomfort and pain. Losing weight takes away the pressure and strain on the ankle joint. As this study[2] mentions, obesity causes joint overload and adversely alters the articular cartilage properties. Another study[3] shows that walking on anti-gravity treadmills improves foot and ankle arthritis symptoms in obese people.

  • Shop for the Right Shoes – Consider shopping from a podiatrist-approved brand. Cushion and arch support are the two crucial factors for consideration for persons with foot and ankle arthritis. Podiatrists say that a good pair supports joints, ligaments, and tendons and may help reduce inflammation.
  • Consider Heat Therapy – If you have ankle osteoarthritis, consider a heat treatment. Heat loosens up the sore, tight muscles and improves blood flow to the area. However, avoid applying heat to an already irritated, sore muscle.

2. Treating Foot And Ankle Affected By Rheumatoid Arthritis:

If you have ankle arthritis symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis, you may consult a rheumatologist along with a foot and ankle specialist for comprehensive pain management. You may try the following options as well:

  • Braces and Splints – When RA causes joint pain and swelling, your rheumatologist may suggest splints and braces for healing support. Splints and braces support the deformed joints and protect them. Splints aid in healing the inflamed ankle, immobilizing it, and lowering pain. It may also help reduce swelling. However, these supportive devices need to be used when a rheumatologist prescribes these to you.
  • Shoe inserts – Orthotics are customized shoe inserts and are considered for treating RA-induced ankle pain. Orthotics offer support to the ankle and help it function better. Using orthotics also lowers injury risks.
  • Rocker-Soled Shoes – Rocker shoes have a curved sole and help reduce ankle range of motion. A clinical trial[4] shows that wearing rocker shoes may help persons manage rheumatoid foot pain.

Additionally, the following non-surgical options could be great ankle arthritis treatment:

  • Exercise helps mitigate the pain and discomfort, improve flexibility, and decrease inflammation.
  • Certain yoga poses may help improve ankle arthritis symptoms. It should be done under the supervision of an expert to avoid injuries.
  • Drinking lemon water may help reduce ankle arthritis pain.
  • Shift to an anti-inflammatory diet.
  • Depending on the severity of ankle arthritis, your physician will create a pain management plan. Cortisone injections and anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed for pain relief.

3. Surgical Treatment For Ankle Arthritis

Treatment for ankle arthritis
If non-surgical options fail to offer pain relief and symptoms worsen, surgical treatments can be viable. Depending on the patient’s condition and ankle arthritis causes, a health specialist would suggest ankle arthroscopy, ankle fusion surgery, and ankle replacement surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Massage therapy may help ease joint pain and stiffness. These massage therapies are considered beneficial for healing ankle arthritis pain: Deep-tissue massage and Swedish massage. Deep-tissue massage may help decrease muscle stiffness and increase flexibility. As this study[5] mentions, Swedish massage therapy had relaxation effects and enhanced quality of life in OA patients.

Arthritis can affect any and multiple joints in the body, including the ankles.

The pain of arthritis in the ankle can be mild to severe. Depending on the type of arthritis affecting the ankle and the joint affected, the pain comes with stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and warmth. The pain may be intense in the morning or at night.

Moreover, ankle arthritis pain restricts mobility with difficulty standing, walking, and running.

Our foot has over 30 joints, and ankle arthritis may affect the other joints.

Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a proper diet, taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements, wearing the right shoes, and doing exercises for ankle fitness may keep joints healthy and pain-free

Conclusion

Millions of people live with ankle arthritis. If you find it painful to stand on your feet in the morning after a good night’s sleep, it could be a symptom of arthritis.

Our feet and ankles work hard by supporting our body weight, absorbing shocks, offering balance, and more. The ankles regulate the up-down movement of the feet. Ankle pain may be a result of bone and muscle injuries.

As a cure for arthritis is not available, one needs to follow a healthy lifestyle to live a pain-free life. Although your doctor may surgical or non-surgical ankle arthritis treatment plan to manage the pain, weight loss, healthy food habits, and physical activities may help you stay fit and keep arthritis at bay.

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