Osteoarthritis of the Ankle

Ankle Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, a condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, develops over time as the cartilage protecting the bones in the joints wears down. It is the most common form of arthritis, and can affect any joint, including the ankle joint, which connects the shinbone (tibia) to the upper bone of the foot (talus).

When osteoarthritis develops in the ankle joint, stiffness and pain can result, and balance and walking may be compromised. As people age, they are more likely to develop osteoarthritis, not only because of cartilage wear and tear, but because cartilage loses its ability to self-heal.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Ankle

Osteoarthritis of the ankle may not initially cause symptoms. As the condition progresses, however, symptoms develop and usually worsen over time. Symptoms may include the following:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Bone spurs
  • Joint deformity
  • Difficulty walking

If the nerves surrounding the joint become irritated, patients may also experience numbness and tingling in the ankle.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Ankle

Although treatment for ankle osteoarthritis depends on its severity, conservative methods of treatment, such as losing weight to relieve pressure on the affected ankle, are usually tried first. Additional conservative methods that may provide relief include the following:

  • Wearing more comfortable shoes
  • Using cushioned shoe inserts
  • Limiting high-impact activities
  • Wearing a brace
  • Using a cane for support

Anti-inflammatory medication and steroid injections can also be helpful in relieving pain. In severe cases of osteoarthritis, advanced but invasive treatments such as ankle arthroscopy, ankle-fusion surgery or ankle-replacement surgery may be recommended.

Chronic Ankle Instability

Chronic ankle instability is a condition in which the outer portion of the ankle has a chronic sensation of weakness and constantly “gives way” during walking and other activities. While this condition commonly occurs during physical activity, it may even occur while an individual is standing still. Chronic ankle instability commonly affects athletes and is often caused by an ankle sprain that has not healed properly or by repeated ankle sprains. A sprained ankle tears or stretches connective tissues, affecting balance, and if not treated properly, chronic ankle instability and other ankle problems may occur.

Symptoms of Chronic Ankle Instability

The most common symptom of chronic ankle instability is a wobbly, unstable feeling within the ankle. Additional symptoms that may affect the ankle may include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling and discomfort

Some individuals with chronic ankle instability may experience a repeated turning of the ankle when walking or running on uneven surfaces.

Diagnosing Chronic Ankle Instability

Chronic ankle instability may be diagnosed through a physical examination, and a medical history review. Patients may be asked about past ankle injuries and recovery. Imaging tests, such as x-rays are often performed to detect any damage to the ankle bone and provide an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for Chronic Ankle Instability

Most cases of chronic ankle instability are treated through conservative measures that may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Ankle bracing

Severe cases of chronic ankle instability that do not respond to conservative treatment methods may require surgical correction. Surgery for chronic ankle instability involves repairing or reconstructing the damaged ligaments that cause symptoms. Recovery from surgery varies depending on the specific procedure that is performed.

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