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Foot and ankle osteoarthritis

As you age your chance of developing osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear, increases. The joint damage associated with osteoarthritis causes swelling, pain and deformity. Here is information about how osteoarthritis affects the foot and ankle and information you can use to help you manage this debilitating condition.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases. The word "arthritis" means "joint inflammation". Arthritis involves inflammation in and around the body's joints and surrounding soft tissue. The inflammation can cause pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints.

In many kinds of arthritis, progressive joint deterioration occurs and the smooth "cushioning" cartilage in joints is gradually lost. As a result the bones rub and wear against each other. Soft tissues in the joints also may begin to wear down. Arthritis can be painful and eventually result in limited motion, loss of joint function and deformities in the joints affected.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease or age-related arthritis, osteoarthritis is more likely to develop as people age. Osteoarthritis used to be considered as simply the wear and tear of ageing, but increasingly scientists consider it an active disease that involves inflammation and other processes destroying the joint.

Inflammation and injury to the joint cause a breaking down of cartilage tissues, resulting in pain, swelling and deformity. The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over many years, though there are occasional exceptions.

How does osteoarthritis affect the foot and ankle?

Each foot has 28 bones and more than 30 joints. The following are the most common foot joints affected by osteoarthritis:

  • The joint where the ankle and shinbone meet
  • The three joints of the foot that involve the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone and the outer mid-foot bon
  • The joint of the big toe and foot bone

What are the symptoms of foot and ankle osteoarthritis?

Symptoms of foot and ankle osteoarthritis often include the following:

  • Tenderness or pain
  • Reduced ability to move or walk
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Swelling in the joint

How is foot and ankle osteoarthritis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of foot and ankle osteoarthritis will probably involve some of the following:

  • A medical history in which the doctor asks questions about when and where the pain began and closely examines the foot
  • A test called a gait analysis in which the doctor measures your stride and the way you walk
  • X-rays
  • Bone scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging ( MRI)

How is foot and ankle osteoarthritis treated?

Foot and ankle osteoarthritis can be treated in many ways. Non-surgical methods to treat foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Steroid medications injected into the joints
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the joints
  • Painkillers
  • Pads or arch supports
  • Walking sticks or braces to support the joints
  • Inserts that support the ankle and foot
  • Physiotherapy
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Weight control
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