Ankle Arthritis: Non-Surgical Treatments
Ankle arthritis is actually, just like when you hear about knee arthritis, bone on bone – meaning, you’ve eroded the cartilage in the ankle joint, and you’re having a lot of pain. You generally have more pain as the day goes on. It gets worse, or it may hurt from the beginning to the end of the day, and it’s really affecting your daily life.
Common symptoms of ankle arthritis include pain, and sometimes patients may even feel some clicking or catching in the ankle joint. They feel unstable when they are being still, like their ankle’s sliding in and out. Or they’ve noticed their foot has changed shape, or their ankle’s changed shape, and become deformed. Those are the ankle arthritis symptoms that patients generally come in with.
We’re becoming more and more knowledgeable with ankle arthritis and the kind of patients who get ankle arthritis. If you’ve had a fractured ankle in the past, you’re at risk for arthritis. I have lots of patients who were treated in a cast for a broken ankle, and they come back later with bad ankle arthritis because there’s incongruities, so to speak, at the ankle joint. They’ve just over the years worn out cartilage. Another patient population is ex-athletes. I get a bunch of ex-athletes that have rolled their ankles. When they come in they’ll say, “My ankle really, really hurts. I used to roll my ankles all the time, and I still do.” Over time, that cartilage isn’t made to have that kind of sharing forces, and you erode the cartilage and develop ankle arthritis. The other ones sometimes just have degenerative arthritis. They don’t have a good reason as to why they have it, but they end up having ankle arthritis. Another population is patients with rheumatoid arthritis, but as we’ve become more well-versed in treating rheumatoid arthritis, we don’t see that near as much as we used to.
There are a lot of non-operative or non-surgical options to treat patients with ankle arthritis. I really pride myself on trying to exhaust those options before we ever decide to go down that road of surgery because sometimes they work tremendously. The whole goal of bracing is really to keep you from moving it, so it doesn’t cause pain. Another option is injections: we do cortisone injections to get rid of the inflammation. I have some patients that have gotten great relief for three to six months from steroid injections. I won’t do it more than every three months, but injections and orthotics can sometimes help if it’s an alignment issue. So there are multiple treatment options for ankle arthritis from a non-surgical standpoint.