What is ankle arthritis?

Changes in the ankle joint usually begin with changes in the smooth covering that pads and protects the ends of the bones called the cartilage. The cartilage becomes thin and this change can be seen on an x-ray.

Over the years, as the cartilage wears away and the bone surfaces rub together, a person can have pain and stiffness in the ankle joint. This might become worse when standing or walking. Some people develop a limp when walking.

People with severe ankle arthritis will be less able to point and bend their foot and might hear a grinding sound when they move their ankle joint.

What causes ankle arthritis?

Some people will develop ankle arthritis after an injury such as a bad ankle fracture or repeated ankle injuries. Ankle arthritis can develop because of the way a person’s bones and joints line up. Other possible causes of ankle arthritis include: inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, crystal arthritis such as gout, or as a result of a serious joint infection.

What can I do about my ankle arthritis?

There are many ways to help your ankle arthritis. The goal is to improve the way you move and decrease your pain.

Reduce the amount of weight on the ankle by:

  • maintaining a healthy weight (you might need to lose weight)
  • using a cane, crutches, or a walker
  • sitting to do activities instead of standing

Reduce movement of the ankle joint by:

  • wearing an ankle brace
  • wearing rocker-bottom shoes. Rocker bottom shoes have a slightly rounded curve in the sole of the shoe to assist in the movement of stiff or painful joints.

Take medicine, it might help. But talk to your doctor before you start taking anything new.

Can surgery help my ankle arthritis?

Surgery might be suggested if the options listed above do not help your ankle arthritis pain.

The type of surgery will depend on the amount of arthritis in the ankle. Your surgeon might suggest:

  • ‘cleaning out’ (debriding) the ankle joint
  • if the arthritis is severe, joining the ankle bones together (an ankle fusion)
  • ankle replacement (might be an option for older patients who are less active)