The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Arthritis Attack: Feet and Ankles

Posted by on Thursday, June 21st, 2012


What do you think of when you think of arthritis? Your ancient piano teacher with her knobby stiff fingers. Your grandfather who can’t lift his arm above his shoulders. The athlete who had to retire before his 30th birthday because of arthritis in his knees. All very common types of arthritis, but guess what? Arthritis can also affect your feet and ankles. Congratulations for not being left out of the arthritis party, feet and ankles!

As you can imagine, arthritis in the feet or ankles can be terribly debilitating; anything that impairs your ability to walk has such an effect on your daily life, whether it’s taking your dog to the park, running for enjoyment, or walking around a theme park with your children or grandchildren. The bad news is that arthritis can’t be cured. The good news is that it can be managed. So let’s find out a little bit about this condition and what you can do to deal with it.

What is arthritis? You have cartilage between your bones and joints that keeps them from rubbing together. When that cartilage wears down, though, the bones are left unprotected. Inflammation and swelling develops in the soft tissues in the area as the bones constantly rub against each other. Bone spurs may develop as well.

What causes it? It depends on which kind you have. Yes, there are several types. Isn’t that fun?

  • Osteoarthritis – This is the most common type of arthritis, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. It comes from overuse, for example if you have a repetitive motion in a job you keep for many years (think assembly line work, constant lifting, or, on a brighter note, swinging a golf club). It also could come simply from age, meaning you’ve lived a long time and have put a lot of mileage on some body parts (I’d consider this good news).
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – This, unfortunately, is an autoimmune disease where your body mistakenly believes there is some kind of disease it needs to attack and in the process, destroys the cartilage protecting your joints.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis – This type of arthritis affects areas where you have had an injury, such as a fracture or bad dislocation or sprain. Joints that have had some kind of trauma are much more likely to develop arthritis than those that haven’t. The arthritis may develop several years after the injury occurred.

Weren’t we talking about feet and ankles? Yes! As avid readers of this blog know (and you are, aren’t you?), the foot and ankle are very complex; there are 28 bones and more than 30 joints in the foot. That means there are a lot of possible targets for arthritis. The joints in the foot and ankle where arthritis is most likely to occur are:

  • the joint between the ankle and shinbone
  • the three joints at the heel bone, the outer mid-foot bone, and the inner mid-foot bone
  • the big toe

What are symptoms of arthritis? This is pretty easy–pain and stiffness in any joint area. To get a full diagnosis, though, you should contact a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).

How is arthritis in my feet and ankles treated? The initial treatment will likely consist of anti-inflammatory drugs, or possibly a steroid injection to reduce pain and swelling. You should also look for shoes that fit well, offer support, and have a natural shape (no pointy toed shoes!). Shoes with rocker bottoms may also help.

A podiatrist may recommend ankle braces or special wraps for support, or custom fit your feet for orthotics that will help take pressure off the painful areas. Additionally, you may be given a course of physical therapy and exercises to help increase your range of motion (Livestrong has some suggestions for ankle exercises).

In extreme cases, surgery can be the best option. Ankle and big toe joints can be replaced with artificial implants very successfully. A podiatric surgeon may also recommend bone fusion, where the surgeon uses pins or plates to hold the affected bones together in order to allow them to naturally fuse together.

This will result in a limited range of motion, but it will alleviate pain. Recovery can be long, but in the end it’s usually successful (you can read one woman’s ankle fusion story here).

Hopefully you won’t have to deal with foot and ankle arthritis, but if you do, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.