The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

How To Deal With Arthritis Foot Pain

Posted by on Monday, June 24th, 2013


Arthritis joint pain is the leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. Three different types of arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in the foot and ankle joints. Osteoarthritis involves degenerative wear and tear of the cartilage. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a system-wide inflammatory disease where the body’s immune system attacks the cartilage. Post-Traumatic Arthritis develops due to disuse following an injury like a severe sprain or fracture.

Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Swelling, stiffness, pain, tenderness, reduced motion and difficulty walking are the chief symptoms of arthritis in the feet. According to WebMD, almost half of the people in their sixties and seventies have arthritis of the foot and/or ankle. Sometimes it causes symptoms, but other times it does not. Each foot has 28 bones and over 30 joints, but the ones most commonly affected by arthritis include: the joint where the ankle and shinbone meet; the three joints of the foot including the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone and the outer mid-foot bone; and the joint where the big toe and foot bone meet.

What You Can Do At Home To Treat Foot and Ankle Arthritis

Arthritis is a chronic condition that won’t go away, but there are ways to treat the pain. Everyday Health recommends the following measures you can try at home:

  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Choose wider shoes with roomy toe-boxes and skip high heels. Look for shoes that boast good arch support like the athletic toning shoes that are popular these days.
  • Stretch your Achilles tendons. Exercising the feet improves mobility, just as any stretch might. Even just wiggling your toes or putting your foot up against a wall and leaning forward for a few minutes a day can help.
  • Get a foot massage. Many people report some pain relief from a relaxing, circulation-enhancing foot rub. You’ll want to focus on the bottoms of the feet and the toes. You can have it professionally done at the spa, do it yourself, or ask your partner to assist.
  • Try a topical medication. Medications that include capsaicin (the spicy ingredient in chili peppers) are especially helpful in treating foot arthritis pain. You can buy this medicine in lotion, liquid, cream, pad or ointment stick forms.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory. Ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce joint swelling and pain on your worst days.
  • Use orthotics. Canes, braces and shoe inserts are all devices that can correct misalignments, improve weight distribution and provide extra cushioning.

How A Doctor Might Treat Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

A podiatrist should check your feet at least once a year, unless you are experiencing pain – in which case, call a doctor right away. After confirming a diagnosis of arthritis, a podiatrist will usually recommend a conservative treatment regimen that includes anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, physical therapy and orthotic pads for your shoes. In severe cases, joint fusion or joint replacement foot surgery may be recommended.

With a joint fusion procedure, the surgeon will use pins, plates, screws and rods to hold the bones in proper alignment. Bone grafts from the lower legs or pelvis may be used if there has been substantial bone loss. Most people express satisfaction with joint fusions, but there are a small number of cases where the wounds do not heal adequately and subsequent surgery is needed. In the long-term, it is possible that arthritis may develop in the joints adjacent to the ones fused.

Joint replacement surgery can remove the arthritic joint and replace it with prosthesis. Replacements provide good mobility and movement for people who have advanced arthritis, destroyed ankle joint surfaces or a condition so severe that it interferes with daily life. There is less risk of adjacent joint arthritis, but the ankle implant is capable of loosening or failing as the years go on, which will require revision surgery. For this reason, replacement is not usually recommended for younger patients.

There is yet another procedure a podiatric surgeon may recommend. Arthroscopic debridement inserts a flexible, pencil-sized instrument which is fitted with a camera, light, probes, knives, shavers and forceps into the joint through tiny incisions. These tools are used to clean off inflammation, bone spurs and injured tissue.


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.