Osteoarthritis is a common condition in which the cartilage between the joints eventually breaks down over time. As the cartilage deteriorates, it can become increasingly difficult to move the affected joints without stiffness and pain. When osteoarthritis affects the foot, it is generally found in the big toe although it can also be found in the ankle or in the middle joint of the foot. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that does worsen as the patient ages but there are certain treatment options that can improve function and alleviate pain.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
For most patients, osteoarthritis is a natural step in the aging process. Thus, it is considered a “wear and tear” condition. Over time and through repeated actions, certain joints in the body eventually get worn down and the cartilage between the joints can wear away. This results in pain and inflammation in the joint.
Repeated injuries to a particular joint, like frequently stubbing one’s big toe, can also lead to an increased prevalence of osteoarthritis in that joint. Osteoarthritis in the feet is commonly attributed to dropping things on one’s foot or jamming the toe. If the ankle is the area affected, this is usually a result of a previous fracture or severe sprain.
Osteoarthritis in the feet can also be a result of abnormal foot mechanics, so people with flat feet or high arches are typically higher at risk of developing this condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Common signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis in the feet include:
- Pain and inflammation in the joint
- Swelling in the area where the pain is felt
- Difficulty bending the joint
- Difficulty walking
- Bone spur formations
- Blisters or calluses (over the location of the bone spur)
How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed?
A complete examination of the foot is conducted by a foot and ankle surgeon. He or she will usually be looking for signs of swelling, pain, and limited mobility in the joint. X-rays are commonly ordered to help aid in the diagnosis and to evaluate the extent of the disease. In some cases, bone scans and MRIs may also be ordered.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis
There are several different options available for treating a patient who is suffering from osteoarthritis in the feet. These treatment options tend to include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Steroid medications injected into the joints
- Arch supports
- Cane or brace to support the foot joints
- Shoe inserts
- Custom shoes
- Physical therapy
When is Surgery Needed?
In some cases, conservative treatments may not sufficiently alleviate the pain associated with osteoarthritis and when this happens, surgery may be recommended by the treating foot and ankle surgeon. The primary goal of the surgery is to reduce pain and increase the function in the foot. The foot and ankle surgeon will choose the best surgery options based on a number of different factors unique to the patient.
Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.