Arthritis is a debilitating condition that effects millions of people every year. There are different forms of arthritis, but the most common is osteoarthritis. This wear and tear of certain joints can cause degradation of the cartilage, bone spurring, and limitation of motion. In turn this causes severe pain and swelling in these joints. A common complaint in arthritic joints is stiffness in the joint. We often see these symptoms, and the arthritis commonly worsens with age as the joints get more and more wear. The main issue patients have with arthritis is the inflammation the arthritis causes of the joints. As stated, this can cause severe pain. The foot and ankle are a common spot for arthritis to show up. The foot and ankle take a lot of stress throughout a person’s lifetime wearing down these joints especially if deformities are present in the foot and ankle. Once a patient gets this severe arthritis in the foot and ankle it can make it very difficult to walk in your daily life.
So, what can we do for this Arthritis? Arthritis unfortunately does not just “go away”. The goals of treatment for arthritis of the foot and ankle are to reduce inflammation and stabilize the joints as best as possible. We reduce the inflammation with NSAIDs, icing, rest, steroid injections, and other injections like stem cells. Steroid injections are one of the most common treatments to control the arthritis in the foot and ankle. On top of reducing the inflammation, we need to try and stabilize the joints. This is best done in the foot and ankle with orthotics, braces, and boots if necessary. Custom orthotics are a mainstay in treating arthritis try and control the abnormal forces on the foot and ankle. Custom orthotics are made from a mold of your foot and ordered with specific modifications for your condition. An ankle foot orthosis (AFO) may also be a viable option for arthritic patients to control the joints. Now although these treatments are effective in controlling the arthritis, they cannot remove the arthritis.
If a patient still struggles with pain and symptoms even after these treatments, there are some viable surgical options for arthritis. The two main surgical options for severe arthritis are joint implants and fusions. Joint implants replace the damaged joint with a replacement joint. The two main joints in the foot and ankle that these are utilized for this are the big toe joint and the ankle joint, although other joints can be replaced. The other main option is a fusion of the affected joint. This is a very powerful procedure which eliminates the arthritis and reduces the pain to often a zero. The joint does not move after this procedure, but most patients still function just as good if not better than pre-surgery do to the lack of pain and the fact that the joint likely didn’t move much before surgery. If you are dealing with arthritis in the foot and ankle, do not think you just have to “live with the pain” as there are many options to improve your quality of life!