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Ankle Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By Abeera Maham
Joel Taylor
Edited by Joel Taylor

Updated February 17, 2023.

Doctor touching elderly male patient's ankle region during assessment

Ankle arthritis is a disorder in which the cartilage in the tibiotalar joint, which connects the foot to the leg, is damaged or worn out. The tibia, fibula, and farm are the three bones that make up this joint. Any or all of these bones may be affected by severe ankle arthritis.

Common symptoms of ankle arthritis include painful, tender, and stiff joints that make it difficult to walk or put weight on your feet. Additional symptoms include swelling and a restricted range of motion.

Early detection of arthritis in patients is important in reducing the chances of harmful long-term consequences. Even though rheumatoid arthritis (RA) cannot be prevented, early detection in patients is crucial. A better understanding of the disease can help you adjust and limit its impact, lowering the risk of severe long-term effects.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are treated well can often prevent deformity and live a normal life span. Stopping inflammation has been demonstrated to lessen the risk of heart issues as well as joint swelling and ankle pain.

Causes of Ankle Arthritis


Sprains, fractures, and other injuries are very common in the ankle, and a post-traumatic joint is associated with about 12% of ankle arthritis occurrences. Any joint injured several times is more likely to develop arthritis. Some research has shown that ankle arthritis affects 70-80% of those who have had an injury to their ankle.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Research has noted that about 12% of ankle arthritis cases occur from an underlying medical problem. Rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, blood abnormalities (hemophilia), clubfoot or other congenital anomalies, and poor blood circulation damage the bones and cartilage of the ankle joint and are all conditions that can increase the chance of developing ankle osteoarthritis.

No Known Cause

Primary ankle arthritis occurs when ankle arthritis is not triggered by a trauma or an underlying medical disease. Only around 10% of ankle arthritis cases are due to primary ankle arthritis, according to research. People with primary ankle arthritis are typically older, have less pain, and have a greater range of motion than those who develop ankle arthritis as a result of an injury or other underlying condition.

How Is Ankle Arthritis Diagnosed?

An X-ray of your foot and ankle may be recommended by your doctor to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis and establish the severity of the condition. X-rays produce images of the bones in the foot and ankle, which doctors examine for any noticeable changes in joint space. For uncommon conditions, other tests such as an MRI or CT scan may be used. Blood testing may be used to diagnose ankle arthritis when it is part of a systemic disorder. Occasionally, a bone scan may be useful.

Surgical Treatments for Ankle Arthritis

A person's actions can be severely hampered if they lose the use of their ankle joint. Surgery to replace or stabilize the joint may be recommended if this occurs. With some forms of surgery, you can expect an improvement in the appearance of malformed joints. Methods of repair include:

Ankle arthroscopy

A lighted scope and tiny devices are placed through small incisions in the ankles during this minimally invasive surgery. Surgeons remove cartilage or bone fragments from the joint space.

Ankle fusion

In fusion, surgeons remove the surfaces of the arthritis-affected bones and link them together with plates and screws until they grow together. The reduction of pain can be tremendous, but it comes at a cost: the loss of up-and-down and side-to-side movement.

Joint replacement

Ankle replacement is a difficult procedure that requires a high level of surgical expertise. The surgeon makes an incision in the front of the ankle, removes the damaged bone and cartilage, reshapes the surfaces, and joins the artificial joint components using a specific glue during ankle replacement. The ankle is supported and stabilized by bone grafts and screws.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Ankle Arthritis

Your doctor may advise you to use shoe inserts (orthotics for arthritis), an ankle brace, or a cane. Another alternative is an ankle-foot orthosis, which is a custom-made shoe with a firm sole and a rocker bottom (AFO). Custom orthotics, such as MASS4D®, can enhance ankle stability in arthritis by restoring optimal range of motion at the ankle joint complex and allowing for an even distribution of pressure throughout the plantar surface of the foot. There are many benefits of arch support for your feet and ankles, including those that are arthritic.

Exercises and Other Techniques

Here are some exercises that can help with ankle arthritis:

  • Toe press, point, and curl are all variations on the same theme. Raise your heels and press down with your toes.
  • Spread your toes as wide as possible and hold for five seconds.
  • Marble pickup and ball rolling.
  • Achilles stretching.
  • Ankle rotations.

Other methods include:

When to See a Doctor for Ankle Arthritis

If you experience severe pain or swelling, symptoms of infection in the afflicted area such as redness, warmth, or tenderness, or a temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or if your pain level is bad enough that you are unable to put weight on the foot and it is affecting your daily functioning, you should see a doctor immediately.