Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Osteoarthritis of the Foot & Ankle

Osteoarthritis (OA) of the foot and ankle is a degenerative joint disease where the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones deteriorates. This leads to pain, swelling, and decreased mobility in the affected joints.

Common Symptoms

  • Pain: Persistent pain in the affected joints, often worsening with activity and improving with rest.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the joints, particularly after prolonged activity.
  • Stiffness: Reduced range of motion and stiffness, especially after periods of inactivity.
  • Crepitus: A grinding or clicking sensation during joint movement.
  • Deformity: Changes in the shape of the foot or ankle over time.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Aging: The most common cause of osteoarthritis due to wear and tear over time.
  • Injury: Previous injuries such as fractures, sprains, or ligament damage can lead to OA.
  • Obesity: Excess weight increases stress on the foot and ankle joints.
  • Genetics: A family history of OA can increase the risk.
  • Overuse: Repetitive stress from activities or occupations that put excessive pressure on the feet and ankles.
  • Biomechanical Factors: Abnormal joint mechanics or alignment issues such as flat feet or high arches.

Anatomy of the Foot and Ankle:

  • Forefoot: Includes the toes (phalanges) and metatarsals.
  • Midfoot: Includes the arch and the cuneiform bones, cuboid, and navicular bones.
  • Hindfoot: Includes the heel (calcaneus) and the talus (ankle bone).
  • Tibia: The larger bone of the lower leg that forms the inner part of the ankle.
  • Fibula: The smaller bone of the lower leg that forms the outer part of the ankle.
  • Talus: The bone that sits between the tibia and fibula and the heel bone.

Diagnosis

  • Evaluation of symptoms, activity level, and any history of injuries.
  • Physical examination to assess pain, swelling, and range of motion.
  • X-rays: To detect joint space narrowing, bone spurs, and other changes in the joint.
  • MRI or CT Scans: Occasionally used to provide detailed images of the soft tissues and cartilage.

Prevention

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Reducing stress on the foot and ankle joints.
  • Exercise Regularly: Strengthening the muscles around the joints to provide support.
  • Protect Your Joints: Avoid activities that place excessive stress on the foot and ankle joints.
  • Healthy Diet: Ensuring adequate intake of nutrients that support joint health, such as calcium and vitamin D.
  • Proper Footwear: Wearing shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Medications:

  • Pain Relievers: Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen.
  • Topical Treatments: Creams or gels applied to the skin over the affected joint.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: Injections to reduce inflammation and pain.

Physical Therapy:

  • Exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
  • Techniques to improve gait and reduce pain during movement.

Assistive Devices:

  • Use of orthotic devices, braces, or specialized footwear to support the foot and ankle and reduce stress on the joints.

Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Weight management to reduce stress on the joints.
  • Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking.
  • Activity modification to avoid activities that exacerbate symptoms.

Surgical Treatments

  • Arthroscopy: Minimally invasive procedure to remove loose fragments or repair damaged cartilage.
  • Osteotomy: Surgical realignment of the bones to improve joint mechanics and redistribute weight.
  • Arthrodesis (Fusion): Fusing two or more bones together to stabilize the joint and reduce pain.
  • Joint Replacement (Arthroplasty): Replacement of the damaged joint with a prosthetic implant, particularly in the ankle.

Rehabilitation

Postoperative Care:

  • Pain management, wound care, and prevention of blood clots.
  • Early mobilization and use of assistive devices.

Physical Therapy:

  • Continued exercises to restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
  • Gradual return to daily activities and improved function.

Potential Complications

  • Joint Deformity: Long-term inflammation can lead to deformities and loss of function.
  • Bone Erosion: Erosion of bones in the foot and ankle, leading to chronic pain and instability.
  • Disability: Severe OA can lead to significant disability and reduced quality of life.

FAQ’s

Can osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle be cured?
OA cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be managed effectively with medications, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and, if necessary, surgery.

How long does it take to recover from ankle replacement surgery?
Recovery time varies, but most patients can return to normal activities within 6-12 weeks. Full recovery may take several months.

Are there exercises I should avoid with OA of the foot and ankle?
Avoid high-impact activities like running and jumping. Focus on low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and walking.

Is ankle replacement surgery safe?
Ankle replacement surgery is generally safe and effective, but like all surgeries, it carries risks, including infection, blood clots, and implant issues.

Can diet affect OA of the foot and ankle?
Yes, a healthy diet can help manage OA. Foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and essential nutrients can support joint health.

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