Osteoarthritis of the Ankle and Foot: Overview, Management and Treatment
Ankle and foot osteoarthritis can have a profound effect on your ability to keep active, run and exercise. It’s more than just a physical problem. The consequences of osteoarthritis can lead to weight gain, poor self-confidence and even mental health problems. All of which contribute to poor health outcomes.
However, there are proactive ways you can take to help prevent the condition from becoming more severe. Discover how you can take control of your ankle and foot osteoarthritis by reading our recommendations below.
What is osteoarthritis?
“Osteoarthritis (OA) is a long-term chronic disease characterized by the deterioration of cartilage in joints which results in bones rubbing together and creating stiffness, pain, and impaired movement.“
As defined by the World Health Organisation, osteoarthritis describes a joint-related condition which results in the loss of cartilage. Joint cartilage has two key functions, which include:
- Producing synovial fluid, which helps lubricate the joint to encourage movement
- Cushions weight-bearing activities (e.g., walking, standing, running, etc.) and impact through the joint.
The greater the cartilage loss, the more severe symptoms can become. As arthritis is considered a degenerative condition; if not managed properly, it can progressively worsen and require more invasive treatment. Fortunately, there are natural and conservative solutions that can help prevent the condition from becoming more significant.
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Osteoarthritis of the Ankle and Foot Joints
Unlike the knee, hip or low back, osteoarthritis of the ankle and foot joints are much less frequent. One hypothesis is the strong support network that resides in our feet and ankles, such as ligaments, tendons, intrinsic muscles and joints.
Although there are many small joints in the ankle and foot, the 3 most common locations where osteoarthritis can be found include the big toe, mid-foot (sub-talar joint) and ankle joint (talocrural joint).
There are two main reasons for foot and ankle osteoarthritis, which include primary and secondary causes.
Primary causes of osteoarthritis are not specific. Usually, the condition will develop over time without any reason or event. There are risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis. These include:
- High-impact sports or movements
- Female gender
Secondary causes of osteoarthritis can usually be linked to specific events. Whether these events are traumatic or an underlying medical condition, the affected joint will progressively worsen over time without treatment. Examples of common secondary causes include:
- Ankle sprains
- Inflammatory conditions
Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Signs and Symptoms
Depending on the area and severity of the condition, your signs and symptoms can vary. However, below are some commonly reported issues that many people with foot and ankle osteoarthritis will report.
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Ankle pain is a commonly reported problem that many people will experience. The picture above describes locations on the ankle and foot, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoarthritis and pain. As the cushioning from the cartilage begins to disappear, you may find that you will experience ankle pain when walking, jumping, or even standing.
Swollen Ankle Joint
Due to the inflammation and structural changes in the ankle, swelling can begin to occur in the affected areas. Swelling is common in the earlier stages of osteoarthritis, where the joint produce more synovial fluid in an attempt to restore movement.
You may begin to experience less flexibility and mobility in the ankle as your osteoarthritis progresses. Swelling within the joint and the thinning of the cartilage can contribute to the stiffness.
Ankle Clicking and Popping
Clicking does not always suggest osteoarthritis. In fact, many people who have clicky joints will have no significant issue. However, those with mid- to late-stage osteoarthritis may begin to notice more noise coming from the affected joint.
Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Management
Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are strategies you can employ to help reduce the progression of the condition. Proactively changing your lifestyle can have a profound impact on your symptoms (e.g., pain, ability to move, etc.). Below are 3 recommendations that you introduce immediately into your day-to-day operations to manage your foot and ankle arthritis.
Physical Activity Modification
Keeping active can be challenging when you have osteoarthritis. Pain and stiffness through the joints can be a barrier for keeping active and performing daily exercise. Especially with foot and ankle osteoarthritis, weight-bearing activities (e.g., jumping, jogging, etc.) can be particularly aggravating.
Instead, you should consider physical activity which requires less impact on the foot and ankle. Examples of activities which you may consider includes swimming, cycling, pilates, or even open kinetic chain exercises. By working with a physiotherapist, you may be able to return to running with some guidance and rehabilitation.
Bracing can be effective for providing support to the ankle joint. Custom or off the shelf braces limits painful ankle movements and can correct for joint instability. However, bracing should be utilized sparingly as consistent usage can stiffen the joint. Using the brace for specific periods (e.g., whilst walking or exercise, etc.) may be considered instead.
Selecting the correct shoe fit for yourself can help reduce pain by taking the pressure off certain areas of the foot and ankle. Having enough foot support can be the difference between tolerating running and confidently running. As footwear can be highly specific to your osteoarthritis (i.e. severity, location) and foot shape, consulting a podiatrist would be recommended.
Although research is still being conducted, some features to look out in your footwear include:
- Running shoes
- Wide heel or rocker bottom sole
- Orthopaedic footwear
- Fitted with comfortable insoles
Non-Surgical Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Treatment
Early-stage osteoarthritis should be treated non-surgically with options, such as physiotherapy and supplementation. Although the condition will progress over time, by undergoing these treatments, you can delay the worsening of symptoms but improve movement. Other more invasive options such as surgery should be discussed with relevant health professionals, particularly when arthritis becomes more severe.
Under the correct supervision, physiotherapy is both safe and effective for foot and ankle osteoarthritis. Physiotherapy can involve treatments ranging from hands-on therapy, electrotherapy and most importantly rehabilitation.
These treatments aim to improve the flexibility, strength, balance and control of the whole – especially the ankle and foot. Restoring these physical traits can not only reduce pain but restore your ability to move and even run.
Currently, the research surrounding supplementation for osteoarthritis is inconclusive. Supplements such as vitamin D, fish oil, glucosamine, collagen, chondroitin and turmeric do not cure foot and ankle osteoarthritis.
There is some evidence to suggest that particular supplementation can help reduce inflammation, reduce pain and restore movement. However, some supplements may be more beneficial than others. Consulting your physician should be considered, especially if you are already taking other medication.
Arguably the most recommended supplements for osteoarthritis are glucosamine and chondroitin, although they are not prescribed by doctors. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are found in cartilage and it has been suggested they may help strengthen the joint. However, whilst the research is not conclusive, some doctors will support your decision to use it (as long as it’s safe for you).
Cartonica is different from other joint supplements. It contains all of the nutrients typically found in supplements, plus type II collagen. However, as a liquid where the ingredients are dissolved, it contains far greater quantities of nutrients than can be compressed into tablets which has been the key limiting factor of traditional supplements.
Cartonica is not a treatment for osteoarthritis. It is intended to support joint health with a breadth of nutrients. It is sold in physiotherapy clinics and others. We advise people to try it and feel the difference. See Cartonica here.
Osteoarthritis in the foot and ankle can be debilitating for many. Especially if you’re an active individual who loves to work out or run, this condition can affect you significantly. Fortunately, there are ways to manage osteoarthritis, such as appropriate footwear, physiotherapy, physical activity and supplementation.