Ankle Arthritis is a condition where the ankle joint cartilage degenerates and becomes eroded, coarse, and stiff, with the potential to become enlarged and full of bone spurs. The ankle joint is responsible for up and down motion of the foot, and is made up of two leg bones (tibia and fibula) and one foot bone (talus). Ankle arthritis can be painful and interferes with everyday life.
Biomechanical problems and trauma-based injuries are the most common culprits behind ankle arthritis. Biomechanical imbalances such as flat feet or general lower extremity malalignment may wear out the ankle joint, resulting in premature degeneration. Traumatic injuries such as ankle fractures may damage the joint structure or create malalignment leading to arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis can also affect the ankle joint. Arthritis usually develops gradually over a long period of time, with frequent flare ups until a critical point is reached resulting in ongoing pain, swelling and/or discomfort.
Patients with ankle arthritis have varying degrees of symptoms, which often correlate with the extent of the arthritic degeneration. Typically, the symptoms involve pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritic pain may flare after periods of inactivity, with the joint loosening up and the pain eroding as the day progresses. Ankle arthritis pain ranges from dull to sharp. Movement of an arthritic ankle joint can result in a clicking or grinding sensation (crepitus). In unique cases, the ankle joint develops arthritic bone spurs – which is the body’s mechanism for blocking the painful arthritic motion.
Surgery for arthritis of the ankle varies depending on the location of arthritis, severity of arthritis, malalignment, and the presence of structural foot deformity (i.e., flat feet). In general, ankle arthritis procedures are separated in two kinds: Joint sparring (preserves the joints) or Joint destructive (eliminates the ankle joint through fusion or replacement).
Recovery depends on which surgery is performed. Arthroscopy and arthritic bone spur removal is much less invasive, and patients can usually walk after surgery. Ankle fusion and replacement protocols typically involve avoid any weight-bearing activities and require a cast and/or crutches until the bone mends – a process that can take six to twelve weeks.