Ankle Arthritis : Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

As soon as we reach a certain age, the functioning of our body slows down. This is a precursor to many health conditions. One such disease very common among people belonging to the older age groups is arthritis.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic disease of the joints located in the body. It is characterized by the inflammation or swelling of these joints.

This disease has no permanent cure, but it can be treated in its early stages.

Arthritis can be observed in almost every body part. However, the most commonly affected parts are the knee and the hip joints.

The main symptoms are pain and swelling in the affected area. It is usually advised by health professionals to give proper rest to the joint along with a little amount of regular exercise. This is important so that the arthritic region does not become stiff.

What Is Ankle Arthritis?

The ankle is a part of the body which allows the movement of the foot. It provides support to the body in order to carry out the daily activities such as walking, running etc.

The weight of the whole body falls on the ankle. Due to this continuous stress, the joint may suffer. This can restrict the ability to walk. The ankle joint is a very sensitive joint; hence it gets injured very easily.

What is the ankle made up of?

The ankle joint is also known as the tibiotalar joint. It is composed of mainly three bones –

  • Tibia – Tibia is a bone situated in the leg of the human body. It is also known as the shinbone or the shank bone. It starts at the knee and continues up to the ankle.
  • Fibula – This bone is also located in the legs. It is connected to tibia from both its ends.
  • Talus – The talus bone is also known as the ankle bone. It is a part of the tarsus, which is a collection of bones of the foot. It forms the bottom part of the ankle joint.

Some tissues are present in between these bones. These include –

  • Tendons–This tissue is made up of collagen. It is very strong and flexible. The main function of the tendon is to connect the bone to the muscle of the ankle joint.
  • Ligaments–These are flexible and strong as well. Ligaments can help to connect one bone to another, one cartilage to another or simply to hold a joint together.
  • Articular cartilage–It is a smooth tissue present at the end of the bones which are a part of a joint. This allows the joints to move freely with very little friction.
  • Synovial membrane –This membrane lines the bone of the joints. Along with the synovial membrane, a fluid called synovial fluid is also present which further lessens the friction. This makes the movement of the joint flexible.

All these together make up the ankle joint.

Ankle Arthritis Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What happens in ankle arthritis?

Due to various reasons, the tissues present between the joints (cartilage, synovium lining, tendons, and ligaments) degenerate. When this erosion begins to take place, the bones come in contact with each other and start to rub against each other.

This creates a lot of friction whenever the joint is moved. Because of this, the joint starts to swell, which further causes unbearable bouts of pain.

What Causes Ankle Arthritis and Symptoms?

There is no particular reason for the development of arthritis in the ankle joint. There can be many factors which could cause this disorder.

Osteoarthritis – This is the most common reason for causing ankle arthritis. Osteoarthritis is characterized by the wearing down of the cartilage situated between the joints. This makes the bone grow abnormally and form bone spurs, which compensate for the lost cartilage. These cause a lot of pain because unlike other soft tissues, bone creates a friction on moving the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis – Foot and ankle arthritis is usually seen in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. This is a type of an autoimmune disease. In this, the immune system starts to attack and kill the body’s own cells, including the tissues of the joints. This again causes them to degenerate and the joint inflames.

Post traumatic arthritis – This type of arthritis occurs after a physical injury or an accident.It is considered to be a form of osteoarthritis. The injury tears and damages the cartilage along with the bone forming the ankle joint. It may worsen in the joint is not given proper rest until the injury is healed.

Post traumatic arthritis may develop due to the following injuries –

Fracture – A fracture can be simply defined as a broken bone. When someone fractures their joint, they become prone to developing post traumatic arthritis in the later stages of their life. The exact reason for this, however, remains unknown.

Sprain – This happens when the ligaments of any joint twist or stretch more than it should. The ligaments are torn due to this damage. Sprains are mainly observed in the ankle and wrists. They are different from a dislocation of the bones.

Dislocation – Dislocation refers to the displacement of the bones from their actual place in the joint. A joint is made up of two bones connected to each other through various ways. When these bones slip out of place, it can tear the tissues and cause arthritis or inflammation of the joint.

What Are The Symptoms?

The symptoms of ankle arthritis are the same as that of arthritis in any joint of the body.

Pain – When the bones of the ankle affected by arthritis degenerate and rub against each other, it causes a lot of pain. This is the most commonly observed symptom of arthritis.

Inflammation – Arthritis is a word which means ‘inflammation of the joints’. Inflammation or swelling of the joint occurs when the tissues present in the joint, mainly cartilage, are broken down.

Stiffness – Stiffening of the arthritic joint is another symptom of this disease. This causes inability to move the patients of arthritis.

Tenderness – Arthritis not only causes pain but increases the sensitivity to pain as well. This sensitivity to pain is known as tenderness.

Redness – The body tries to cure the inflammation caused by arthritis by sending more blood to the affected area. This is done in order to allow the cells to generate more tissues and heal the joint. As a result, the body part becomes warm and redness can be seen.

The symptoms are not continuous. This means that they can come and go anytime. However, these symptoms may gradually become worse if necessary precautions are not taken.

How to diagnose Ankle Arthritis?

MRI –Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a test which produces images of the internal parts of the body. This helps in detecting arthritis.

X ray –This allows the doctor to diagnose arthritis by showing images of the swelled and degenerated bones.

CT scan –Computer Tomography (CT) scan helps in the detection of health conditions associated with the musculoskeletal system. It identifies arthritis by providing information about the tissues.

Blood Tests – These are done in the case of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis of the ankle.

What are The Conditions Associated With It?

The ankle joint is extremely fragile. This leads to the possibility of a huge number of health risks linked to it.

Gout – When an excess of uric acid deposits between the ankle joint in a crystal form, the joint swells up. This condition is known as gout, which is another form of arthritis.

SclerodermaScleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis are both autoimmune diseases. The skin hardens in this condition. The symptoms of both this disease are also the same, which mainly include stiffening of the joint, pain and inflammation.

Psoriatic arthritis – This is another disease which can be confused with rheumatoid arthritis. This also causes pain in the foot along with stiffness and swelling.

Rheumatic feverRheumatic fever affects the joints and the blood vessels. It causes fever and increased the tenderness of a joint. Arthritis in the joints is a symptom of this disease.

Septic arthritis – This is an infectious disease caused by microorganisms. It leads to inflammation of the joint. It can be treated by antibiotics.

HaemophiliaHaemophilia is a condition in which the body is unable to stop the flow of blood once it starts to leak out. People who suffer from this disease are at a high risk of developing arthritis in the ankle joint.

Hemochromatosis – It is also known as the iron overload disease. In this, the body absorbs an excess of iron. This affects the joint and leads to its inflammation, eventually causing arthritis in the ankle.

TendonitisTendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon (tissue connecting the bone to a muscle). Since tendons are present around the joints as well, they can inflame if the person suffers from arthritis.

Tenosynovitis – This disease involves the inflammation of the tendon as well the tissues surrounding it. These tissues mainly include the synovium lining. This is another disease which can be a result of arthritis.

How Is Ankle Arthritis Treated?

Since the main objective of the treatment of this disorder is to control or supress the symptoms, the majorly practiced treatment methods are:

Natural treatment methods

Decreasing physical activity – A heavy workout wears down the muscle and cartilage present in the joint. This should be prevented and sufficient rest should be provided to the body.

Light exercises – However, movement of the joint should not be completely stopped. Exercises which are simple and easy should be performed regularly to keep a check on the stiffening of the joints.

Reducing weight – Another way to cure ankle arthritis is to decrease the amount of pressure falling on the joint. A reduction in the body weight does that to a great extent.

Medications

NSAIDs – Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medicines used to treat arthritis. They have been found to control the inflammation.

DMARDs – Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It improves the pain in the joints.

Corticosteroids – These are injected into the body and provide immediate relief from the symptoms of arthritis for a long period of time.

Biologics – Biological agents also help in improving the disease to an extent. Some biologics such as abatacept, adalimumab and etanercept have found to be more effective than others according to some studies.

Non-surgical treatment methods

Physiotherapy – Also known as physical therapy, this method uses machines to induce motion and mobility into the arthritic joints. This is beneficial for people who suffer from chronic arthritis.

Braces – Ankle braces are used after a surgery to protect and to provide support to the damaged joint.
Arch supports – Arch is the inside part of the foot. Arch supports keep the feet in shape and prevent pain.

RICE therapy – RICE stands for Rest (to protect the damaged part), Ice (applied directly to the joint), Compression (this is done by bandaging the joint to reduce inflammation) and Elevation (the affected part is kept at a height with some support below it).

Surgical treatment methods

Arthroplasty – This method involves replacement of the arthritic joint through surgical methods. This has found to show positive results on the ankle joint.

Arthroscopy – An arthroscope is a device used to look at the joint from inside. This procedure allows the surgeon to treat the injury safely and effectively.

Arthrodesis – This is another method of surgery which involves the fusion or permanent joining of bones of the joint.

Syndesmotic screw – Syndesmosis is the type of joint present in the ankle joint. When this gets torn, a syndesmotic screw is inserted to repair the bones.

Conclusion

Ankle arthritis is a disease which can be controlled in its early stages. The symptoms should not be ignored and its treatment should never be delayed.

A doctor should always be consulted before taking any medications or trying out any other treatment method so as to avoid any further harm to the joint.

A healthy diet, even though not proven as an effective treatment method, should be consumed.

An increased intake of calcium and vitamin D in the daily diet might help in improving the condition of the joints by regenerating the lost bone and cartilage.