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Osteoarthritis of the Ankle: What You Need to Know

The ankle joint is a hinged synovial joint that is formed by the articulation of the Tibia, Fibula and Talus bones. Osteoarthritis is a common condition that affects the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and loss of function. The Ankle can also be affected by osteoarthritis causing pain, stiffness, swelling and change in gait. Ankle Osteoarthritis is usually a long term consequence of an injury.

How to Diagnose Ankle Osteoarthritis?

Diagnosis of Ankle Osteoarthritis typically involves a physical examination and a review of the medical history of the patient. Imaging tests such as X-rays, Ultrasound, MRI, or CT scans may be used to evaluate the condition of the Ankle joint and assess the extent of damage. In some cases, a joint fluid test may also be requested to rule out other conditions and to confirm the diagnosis. During the physical examination, the doctor will look for signs of joint swelling, tenderness, and reduced range of motion and perform specific tests to assess joint function and instability. Further imaging of the Ankle will help assess the severity of the condition and guide management.

What are the Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Ankle Osteoarthritis?

There are several non-surgical treatment options for ankle osteoarthritis, which can help reduce pain and improve joint function. Those include:

  • Pain Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can relieve mild to moderate pain caused by ankle osteoarthritis. Stronger pain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed for more severe pain.

  • Ankle Physiotherapy: Physiotherapy can improve joint mobility and muscle strength, reducing pain and improving overall function. Exercises may include range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, and activities to improve balance and coordination.

  • Assistive Devices: Wearing a brace, orthotic device, or supportive shoe can redistribute weight and reduce stress on the joint, relieving pain and improving joint stability.

  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight is important as excess weight can put added stress on the ankle joint.

  • Heat and Ice Therapy: Applying heat or ice to the affected ankle can reduce pain and swelling during periods of flare ups.

  • Joint Injections: Corticosteroid injections or Hyaluronic Acid injections can relieve pain and inflammation in the ankle joint.

  • Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that put excessive stress on the ankle joint and switching to low-impact activities can reduce pain and slow the progression of the disease.

What are The Surgical Treatment Options for Ankle Osteoarthritis?

Surgical treatments for ankle osteoarthritis may be recommended when non-surgical treatments are no longer effective. The most common surgical options include:

  • Ankle Arthroscopy: This is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a small camera and specialized instruments to clean out any debris or damaged tissue in the ankle joint.

  • Ankle Fusion (Arthrodesis): This is a more invasive procedure in which the bones of the ankle joint are fused together to eliminate pain and restore stability.

  • Ankle Replacement (Ankle Arthroplasty): This procedure removes the damaged parts of the ankle joint and replaces them with an artificial joint (prosthesis).

  • Osteotomy: This procedure involves cutting and repositioning the bone of the lower leg to relieve stress on the ankle joint and improve alignment.

It is important to work closely with a doctor to determine the best treatment option for ankle osteoarthritis, as each patient is unique. Non-surgical treatments, such as physiotherapy, pain medications, joint injections and weight management, are often the first line of treatment. However, when these treatments are no longer effective, surgical options may be recommended to relieve pain and improve joint function. It is important to seek early treatment for ankle osteoarthritis to slow the progression of the disease and maintain mobility.

ACTIVATE Musculoskeletal Clinic in Kent provides a comprehensive range of non-surgical treatments for patients with ankle osteoarthritis including medical assessment, clinical examination, ultrasound scanning, digital physiotherapy and joint injections. Patients with ankle pain can self-refer to the clinic and book online without the need for a GP referral, making it easy and convenient for them to receive the treatment they need.

About the Author: Dr. Mustafa Alnaib MBChB, MRCS, MSc, FEBOT is an orthopaedic surgeon, musculoskeletal doctor and Clinic Director at ACTIVATE Musculoskeletal Clinic in Kent.


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