ankle arthritis treatment options

The ankle is composed of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that support the weight of our body when we engage in everyday basic activities like walking, climbing stairs and essentially every other activity that requires us to stand.

As with aging, we may begin to develop pain in our ankle joint, just as we may in any of our joints. This can be a major problem and can greatly effect quality of life. Pain can range from an occasional nagging sensation associated with the weather to a full-on debilitating condition that makes the most common of tasks a daily struggle. The major cause of joint pain is called Arthritis.

By definition ankle arthritis is a clinical condition by which the joint connecting the foot to the leg, known as the tibiotaler joint or “ankle” has damaged or worn out cartilage.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) states that there are over 100 types of arthritis. The three major types that affect the foot and ankle are Rheumatoid, Osteoarthritis and post-traumatic arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own tissues causing them to break down causing pain and eventually may result in serious joint deformity and disability.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is different in that it occurs from joint overuse often referred to as the “wear and tear arthritis”. Over time as a joint is overused and the cartilage wears away pain and joint stiffness begin and increase in severity over time.

Post-traumatic Arthritis is related to a previous joint injury. Dislocations and fractures as well as sprains all contribute to post-traumatic arthritis.  As the AAOS notes, an injured joint is about seven times more likely to experience arthritis at some stage than an uninjured joint.


Now that we know what we are dealing with, where do we go from here?

Can ankle arthritis be treated? The short answer is YES!  There are methods for treating and managing the condition. Although there is no cure for the disease, people can live comfortable, active lives while living with the condition.  Below will highlight a few more popular treatments. Remember, all treatments and interventions should of course be discussed with your health care provider.


Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Eating well
  • Minimizing activities that aggravate the condition
  • Moving away from high impact activities like tennis and running to activities like swimming and cycling
  • Losing weight to reduce the load the joint is carrying


  • Visiting your physiotherapist or doctor to find exercises that you can do daily to help strengthen and support the joint

Device Assistance/Bracing

  • Using soft or rigid bracing to help support the joint
  • Canes and walkers depending on the severity of the situation
  • Items like the Breg Polar Care Kodiak Cold Therapy machine may also provide relief at the end of the day to help with any swelling or throbbing pain

click here to learn more about ankle braces for the treatment of ankle arthritis.

Lastly, there are surgical options that may be beneficial depending on the severity of the condition:



Joint Debriding:

  • A small procedure where a tiny scope is inserted into the joint and washes the joint in hopes of removing any small debris in the joint space that could be causing discomfort


  • This procedure is more invasive and although reduces pain it also removes joint mobility. In this procedure, the tibiotaler joint or ankle joint is fused into a single straight position essentially making one bone out of two.  The pain is gone but so is the movement.


  • In this procedure, a surgeon would completely replace the existing arthritic joint with a metal implant. Restoring function and reducing pain. Some things to consider with this option is the recovery time, the life of the implant (how long will it function) and the long-term plan if the procedure needs to be revised.


There are many options for treatment available to people living with arthritis.  Of course, surgical intervention is a last resort. We encourage patients to work with their healthcare team to exhaust all non-surgical options to delay more invasive procedures as long as possible. Contact us to learn more!

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