Ankle arthritis is a painful gradual process that can make daily physical activities difficult since the ankle joint provides much of the support and motion stability needed for standing, walking, and running. Arthritis commonly occurs in the ankle joint after a post-traumatic injury, but can it also occur from the gradual wear and tear of the joint or from an inflammatory process such as rheumatoid arthritis. Older patients are often believed to be more prone in developing arthritis, but in a post-traumatic injury such a rotational ankle fracture with cartilaginous damage, it can also commonly occur in younger patients especially from sports.
The symptoms of an arthritic ankle joint are swelling, warmth, and pain during motion and physical activity. There may also be increased pain in the morning or after a period of sitting and resting. Your podiatrist or doctor will ask questions about your ankle pain such as any past history of ankle injuries, will examine your ankle, and will access your gait as well as order x-rays of weight-bearing ankle views. Though there is no definitive cure for ankle arthritis, there are various conservative treatments and lifestyle modifications to manage the arthritis.
The following are non-surgical treatments that your doctor may recommend for an arthritic ankle:
- Lifestyle modifications: Rest and reduce aggravating activities (i.e. running). Staying active with low-impact activities (i.e. swimming). Weight loss may also decrease stress on the ankle joint.
- Physical therapy: Exercises to increase supportive strength and stretch the soft tissues around the ankle joint. Warm or cold compress to relax the stiffness and decrease the swelling of the ankle joint.
- Shoe wear and/or orthopedic devices: Supportive shoes and orthotics to reduce the pressure place on the ankle joint. Taking care to avoid high heels and sandals. Assistive devices such as an ankle brace, cane/walker, or an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) may also help to stabilize and provide further support the ankle.
- Medications: Pain relievers, NSAIDs, and topical medications such as Voltaren gel, capsaicin cream, and/or Lidocaine patches.
- Injections: Corticosteroid injections to decrease the inflammation or swelling. Hyaluronic acid injections may also be done to provide lubrication for the ankle joint.
If conservative treatments are not providing any pain relief, your doctor may advise the surgical route. Based on the severity of your ankle arthritis, your doctor will decide which surgery is best to treat your arthritic condition. Some surgical options are arthroscopic debridement to clean out the ankle joint, ankle arthrodiastasis to stretch out the ankle joint, ankle arthrodesis (fushion), and total ankle replacement (arthroplasty).Call your podiatrist today to assess an effective treatment for your chronic ankle pain to relieve the painful symptoms and support long-term healthy ankle function!
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