Foot and Ankle Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Arthritis of the foot and ankle can be particularly frustrating because it may hinder your ability to get around. Unfortunately, because the foot has 28 bones and more than 30 joints, there are plenty of places where this condition can flare up. Here's what you need to know:

  • Foot and ankle arthritis can have different causes. Your arthritis may be osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis. Usually occurring as we age, it happens because of wear and tear that erodes the cartilage protecting our joints. But you may also have post-traumatic arthritis, which occurs after an injury to the bone, joint, or ligament. The arthritis can arise years after the injury, even if it was properly treated. Finally, you may have developed rheumatoid arthritis, a system-wide autoimmune disorder in which the body destroys its own cartilage and can cause multiple complications elsewhere.
  • How do I know if the pain and stiffness in my feet and ankles is arthritis? It's not always easy to tell. If you've experienced arthritis that migrates from one joint to another, or if you have other unexplained health issues such as eye infections or skin irritations, there's a chance your foot and ankle problems are rheumatoid in nature. If you've been active for many years without any other apparent health issues and find that your feet and ankles are becoming painful, stiff and sore, especially in the morning, consider that you may have developed osteoarthritis. If the pain and discomfort occur in a part of the foot or ankle that once sustained an injury, there's a very real possibility that you've developed post-traumatic arthritis. In any case, there's no definitive test that will let your doctor diagnose you with arthritis. Diagnosis is made based on a combination of factors such as physical symptoms, medical history, blood tests, x-rays, bone scans, and MRIs.
  • How do I get rid of foot and ankle arthritis? Getting rid of it completely may not be possible. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that typically flares up periodically. You may feel fine for several months and then experience a flare-up that makes it difficult to walk for weeks. This cycle often repeats itself, with flare-ups occurring during times of stress or for no apparent reason. Osteoarthritis or post-traumatic arthritis may be "cured" via joint-replacement surgery, if the condition is severe enough. For many people, however, a combination of anti-inflammatory medication, pain relievers, physical therapy, foot or ankle braces, and weight control can go a long way toward providing relief.



American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,

Cleveland Clinic,