Ankle Arthritis - Types, Symptoms And Treatment


Ankle arthritis occurs when the ankle joint has damaged or worn out cartilage. Although not life-threatening, this clinical disease can significantly limit a patient’s ability to participate in activities of recreation, the workplace, or even of daily living.

The ankle joint, or tibiotalar joint, is the meeting point between the bones of the leg and the foot. It controls the up and down motion of the foot. There are three bones at this joint: the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. Cartilage lines the joint on both sides of the bones allowing them to glide smoothly. When the cartilage is damaged, joint space diminishes, often with inflammation. The combination of inflammation and loss of joint space is arthritis.

Three types of arthritis affect the ankle:


Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is common in patients over 40. As one ages, the smooth cartilage covering the ends of bones becomes worn, resulting in inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joint. This type of arthritis develops slowly and symptoms worsen over time.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis follows a predictable pattern in particular joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a system-wide disease. It is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease where the body’s own immune system attacks cartilage.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis

This type of arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis and can develop years after an injury to the ankle such as fracture, severe sprain, or ligament injury. When a patient sustains an injury, the cartilage may be damaged and lead to accelerated arthritis.


Symptoms vary depending on whether arthritis is in an early or late stage. Ankle arthritis most commonly causes pain at and around the joint. Other common symptoms include:

  • Swelling around the joint 
  • Stiffness of the ankle 
  • Instability at the ankle joint
  • Reduced ability to move, walk, or hold weight
  • Joint deformity

Testing for Arthritis

A diagnosis involves a medical history review which helps the doctor understand whether symptoms are a result of a past foot injury, or if arthritis runs in the patients family. X-ray imaging shows changes in the spacing between bones or in the shape of the affected bones. Other tests, such as MRI and bones scans may also be used to assist diagnosis.


There is no cure for arthritis, but many treatment options are available. With treatment, arthritis patients are able to manage pain, stay active, and live fulfilling lives. The most common treatments are:

  • Weight control
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Cortisone injected into the joints

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Ankle Arthroscopy

Often arthritis patients develop bone spurs around the joints. Sometimes the bone spurs become pinched when the ankle moves up and down. During arthroscopic surgery, the bone spurs are shaved to promote freer motion of the joint.

Ankle Fusion Surgery

This is the standard treatment for advanced ankle arthritis. The surgery removes the worn out part of the joint, and then permanently holds the bones in a solid position.

Ankle Replacement Surgery

This surgery is a more controversial treatment for arthritis, as the success of fusion surgery is currently under debate. As more of these procedures are performed, the implant design is being improved, improving results.

Ankle Arthritis Living Aids

In addition to seeking early treatment, patients should consider arthritis living aids to help relieve symptoms and simplify daily tasks. 

  • Shoe inserts can help to support the ankle and add comfort

  • Custom shoes reduce stress on the ankle and accommodate swelling

  • Thermoskin ankle wraps provide compression while helping to control swelling and support the ankle

  • Canes or braces support the joints

  • Wheel chairs may be used to keep weight off the joint in more severe cases

Such living aids can help to relieve pain and other symptoms, allowing patients of ankle arthritis to live with their disease more comfortably. 

Devices to Aid Living with Arthritis of the Ankle

Mobility Scooters - if you need to use them frequently, it is important to buy those that are sturdier and made for frequent use.

Walking Canes - choosing one takes a discerning eye and a full understanding of your needs.

Stair Lifts for Disabled - open accessibility options and frequently allows physically challenged people to remain in their home and comfortable surroundings.

Bathroom Grab Bars - A long bar or one that extends throughout your bathroom might be better if you have a more severe case of arthritis, particularly if it is in your knee or ankle joints.

Thermoskin Arthritis Ankle Wrap - Ankle arthritis can be very painful, an ankle wrap may help to relieve painful symptoms.

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