Osteoarthritis of the Foot and Ankle

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What Is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a condition characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in one or more joints. Cartilage (the connective tissue found at the end of the bones in the joints) protects and cushions the bones during movement. When cartilage deteriorates or is lost, symptoms develop that can restrict one’s ability to easily perform daily activities.

Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis, reflecting its nature to develop as part of the aging process. As the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects millions of Americans. Some people refer to osteoarthritis simply as arthritis, even though there are many different types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis appears at various joints throughout the body, including the hands, feet, spine, hips, and knees. In the foot, the disease most frequently occurs in the big toe, although it is also often found in the midfoot and ankle.

Causes
Osteoarthritis is considered a “wear and tear” disease because the cartilage in the joint wears down with repeated stress and use over time. As the cartilage deteriorates and gets thinner, the bones lose their protective covering and eventually may rub together, causing pain and inflammation of the joint.

An injury may also lead to osteoarthritis, although it may take months or years after the injury for the condition to develop. For example, osteoarthritis in the big toe is often caused by kicking or jamming the toe, or by dropping something on the toe. Osteoarthritis in the midfoot is often caused by dropping something on it, or by a sprain or fracture. In the ankle, osteoarthritis is usually caused by a fracture and occasionally by a severe sprain.

Sometimes osteoarthritis develops as a result of abnormal foot mechanics such as flat feet or high arches. A flat foot causes less stability in the ligaments (bands of tissue that connect bones), resulting in excessive strain on the joints, which can cause arthritis. A high arch is rigid and lacks mobility, causing a jamming of joints that creates an increased risk of arthritis.

Symptoms
People with osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle experience, in varying degrees, one or more of the following:

  • Pain and stiffness in the joint
  • Swelling in or near the joint
  • Difficulty walking or bending the joint

Some patients with osteoarthritis also develop a bone spur (a bony protrusion) at the affected joint. Shoe pressure may cause pain at the site of a bone spur, and in some cases blisters or calluses may form over its surface. Bone spurs can also limit the movement of the joint.

Diagnosis
In diagnosing osteoarthritis, the foot and ankle surgeon will examine the foot thoroughly, looking for swelling in the joint, limited mobility, and pain with movement. In some cases, deformity and/or enlargement (spur) of the joint may be noted. X-rays may be ordered to evaluate the extent of the disease.

Non-surgical Treatment
To help relieve symptoms, the surgeon may begin treating osteoarthritis with one or more of the following non-surgical approaches:

  • Oral medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often helpful in reducing the inflammation and pain. Occasionally a prescription for a steroid medication is needed to adequately reduce symptoms.
  • Orthotic devices. Custom orthotic devices (shoe inserts) are often prescribed to provide support to improve the foot’s mechanics or cushioning to help minimize pain.
  • Bracing. Bracing, which restricts motion and supports the joint, can reduce pain during walking and help prevent further deformity.
  • Immobilization. Protecting the foot from movement by wearing a cast or removable cast-boot may be necessary to allow the inflammation to resolve.
  • Steroid injections. In some cases, steroid injections are applied to the affected joint to deliver anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Physical therapy. Exercises to strengthen the muscles, especially when the osteoarthritis occurs in the ankle, may give the patient greater stability and help avoid injury that might worsen the condition.

When Is Surgery Needed?
When osteoarthritis has progressed substantially or failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be recommended. In advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. The goal of surgery is to decrease pain and improve function. The foot and ankle surgeon will consider a number of factors when selecting the procedure best suited to the patient’s condition and lifestyle.


Contact Us

Office Hours:
UPDATE 3/23/20: In attempt to maintain the safety of our patients, employees, and the community, the office is physically closed, other than for the care of patients with urgent concerns / emergenices only. Attempts will be made to return phone calls Monday through Thursday from 9AM to 1PM. Please use the "Request an Appointment" resource above to request an appointment. If an established patient, we encourage you to log into the Patient Portal and send a message to Dr. Barnes or the office with any questions or concerns. Thank you.

TeleHealth and Tele-Visits in the time of COVID-19

Step Ahead Foot & Ankle Clinic, PC has initiated a TeleHealth Service during the COVID-19 Pandemic for a number of reasons:

1.) Our top priority has always been, and continues to be, Patient, Employee, Community Health and Safety.

2.) With the primary goal of triaging, or prioritizing what's urgent and what's not, Dr. Barnes seeks to help patients with the foot concerns over the phone or computer. Caring for patients in this way, and arranging for visits in clinic if necessary (infections, ulcerations, injuries) and in a controlled environment, she hopes to do her part in allowing to the Urgent Cares and Emergencies Rooms help those with needs related to the virus. 

3.) Although Dr. Barnes obviously cannot physicially treat you or other patients over the phone or computer, she can hopefully see if your concern would be best treated physically, and arrange for this to be done. If she can help give you direction and advice over the computer or phone, she will do so. This particularly applies to you if you have foot pain, as many treatment options can be relayed in this way (stretches, shoe recommendations, orthotic recommendations). 

4.) During this time of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty, Dr. Barnes wants to do her part in helping you do the things you need to do (caring for a loved one, running outside for stress relief, or walking on a treadmill at home, for example) without foot pain interfering. She does't want you to have to wait months or an indefinite period of time for you to get back on your feet! "CLICK HERE TO REQUEST A TELEVISIT."