What is Foot and Ankle Pain?

  • Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
  • There is no cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options available
  • With treatment, people with arthritis are able to manage pain, stay active, and live fulfilling lives, often without surgery.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. It can occur at any age, and literally means “pain within a joint.” As a result, arthritis is a term used broadly to refer to a number of different conditions.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options available. It is important to seek help early so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. With treatment, people with arthritis are able to manage pain, stay active, and live fulfilling lives, often without surgery.

There are three types of arthritis that may affect your foot and ankle.

Osteoarthritis

Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, it destroys the smooth outer covering of bone and wears away and the protective space between the bones decreases. When moving, the bones of the joint rub against each other and cause pain.Osteoarthritis usually affects people over 50 years of age.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that attacks multiple joints throughout the body. It is symmetrical, meaning that it usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes the lining that lubricates the joint to swell, which causes pain and stiffness in the joint.

Because RA is an autoimmune disease the immune system attacks its own tissues.

Posttraumatic Arthritis

 

Posttraumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis that develops after an injury, such as a fracture, sprain or ligament injury of the foot or ankle.

Our Treatment Approach

Depending on the type, location, and severity of the arthritis, there are many types of treatment available.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Nonsurgical treatment options include:
  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling
  • Shoe inserts (orthotics), such as pads or arch supports
  • Custom-made shoe, such as a stiff-soled shoe with a rocker bottom
  • An ankle-foot orthosis (AFO)
  • A brace or a cane
  • Physical therapy and exercises
  • Weight control or nutritional supplements
  • Medications, such as a steroid medication injected into the joint

Surgical Treatment

If arthritis doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatment, surgical treatment might be considered. The choice of surgery will depend on the type of arthritis, the impact of the disease on the joints, and the location of the arthritis. Sometimes more than one type of surgery will be needed.

Surgery performed for arthritis of the foot and ankle include arthroscopic debridement, arthrodesis (or fusion of the joints), and arthroplasty (replacement of the affected joint).

Arthroscopic Debridement

Arthroscopic surgery may be helpful in the early stages of arthritis.

A flexible, fiberoptic pencil-sized instrument (arthroscope) is inserted into the joint through a series of small incisions through the skin.

The arthroscope is fitted with a small camera and lighting system, as well as various instruments. The camera projects images of the joint on a television monitor. This enables the surgeon to look directly inside the joint and identify the problem areas.

Small instruments at the end of the arthroscope, such as probes, forceps, knives, and shavers, are used to clean the joint area of foreign tissue, inflamed tissue that lines the joint, and bony outgrowths (spurs).

Arthrodesis or Fusion

Arthrodesis fuses the bones of the joint completely, making one continuous bone.

The surgeon uses pins, plates and screws, or rods to hold the bones in the proper position while the joint(s) fuse. If the joints do not fuse (nonunion), this hardware may break.

A bone graft is sometimes needed if there is bone loss. The surgeon may use a graft (a piece of bone, taken from one of the lower leg bones or the wing of the pelvis) to replace the missing bone.

This surgery is typically quite successful. A very small percentage of patients have problems with wound healing. These problems can be addressed by bracing or additional surgery.

The biggest long-term problem with fusion is the development of arthritis at the joints adjacent to those fused. This occurs from increased stresses applied to the adjacent joints.

Arthroplasty or Joint Replacement

In arthroplasty, the damaged ankle joint is replaced with an artificial implant (prosthesis).

Although not as common as as total hip or knee joint replacement, advances in implant design have made ankle replacement a feasible option for many people.

In addition to providing pain relief from arthritis, ankle replacements offer patients better mobility and movement compared to fusion. By allowing motion at the formerly arthritic joint, less stress is transferred to the adjacent joints. Less stress results in reduced occurance of adjacent joint arthritis.

Ankle replacement is most often recommended for patients with:

  • Advanced arthritis of the ankle
  • Destroyed ankle joint surfaces
  • An ankle condition that interferes with daily activities
  • As in any joint replacement surgery, the ankle implant may loosen over the years or fail. If the implant failure is severe, revision surgery may be necessary.

Causes

Osteoarthritis

Many factors increase your risk for developing osteoarthritis. Because the ability of cartilage to heal itself decreases as we age, older people are more likely to develop the disease. Other risk factors include obesity and family history of the disease.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. Although it is not an inherited disease, researchers believe that some people have genes that make them more susceptible. There is usually a “trigger,” such as an infection or environmental factor, which activates the genes. When the body is exposed to this trigger, the immune system begins to produce substances that attack the joint. This is what may lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Fractures – particularly those that damage the joint surface – and dislocations are the most common injuries that lead to this type of arthritis. An injured joint is about seven times more likely to become arthritic, even if the injury is properly treated. In fact, following injury, your body can secrete hormones that stimulate the death of your cartilage cells.

The joints most commonly affected by arthritis in the lower extremity include:

  • The ankle (tibiotalar joint). The ankle is where the shinbone (tibia) rests on the uppermost bone of the foot (the talus).
  • The three joints of the hindfoot. These three joints include:
    • The subtalar or talocalcaneal joint, where the bottom of the talusconnects to the heel bone (calcaneus);
    • The talonavicular joint, where the talus connects to the inner midfoot bone (navicular); and
    • The calcaneocuboid joint, where the heel bone connects to the outer midfoot bone (cuboid).
  • The midfoot (metatarsocuneiform joint). This is where one of the forefoot bones (metatarsals) connects to the smaller midfoot bones (cuneiforms).
  • The great toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint). This is where the first metatarsal connects to the great toe bone (phalange).This is also the area where bunions usually develop.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of arthritis of the foot vary, depending on which joint is affected. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Stiffness or reduced motion
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty walking due to any of the above

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