Understanding arthritis: a comprehensive overview

By definition, arthritis means inflammation of one or more joints. Largely speaking there are two types of arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis) which are different from each other in the cause of the disease and specific treatment although their symptoms are mainly the same. In this article we will focus on osteoarthritis which is the most common type, and lies within the scope of orthopaedic surgeons, whilst rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that attacks multiple joints and ligaments; an area of expertise of the rheumatologists. In this case, the immune system unsuitably targets its own tissues and the treatment is largely based on drugs that regulate that immune response.

The mechanism of arthritis

Independently of the type of arthritis, the common outcome is the damage and loss of cartilage in the affected joint. The cartilage is a thin lining of smooth tissue that exists at the end of each bone when they meet to form a joint. Our joints are bathed by synovial fluid that lubricates the cartilage and together they ensure a shock-absorbing effect and a reduction in friction. However, when a joint undergoes the process of arthritis, this cartilage gradually wears away and that protective effect is lost, resulting eventually in bone on bone arthritis which is logically very painful.

Affected joints in the foot and ankle

The foot and ankle region, housing numerous joints, are susceptible to arthritis. Among the commonly affected sites are the ankle joint (tibio-talar joint), the big toe joint (metatarsophalangeal joint), and the midfoot joints. Prolonged strain, deformities, overuse, or previous trauma often predispose these joints to osteoarthritis.

Recognizing Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of arthritis typically include joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, and swelling, often exacerbated during activity or after periods of rest. Patients may experience heightened pain sensitivity during changes in weather conditions.

Diagnostic Process

During your appointment in clinic, your doctor will enquire about your symptoms and potential causes along with a focused medical history. A physical examination of the affected joints will be conducted and possibly diagnostic tests will be ordered, such as x-rays.

Foot and ankle arthritis treatment

While arthritis lacks a definitive cure, various treatment options aim to alleviate pain and enhance joint function:

  • Lifestyle Modifications: Strategies such as weight management, low-impact exercises, and appropriate footwear can mitigate stress on the affected joints.
  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs offer symptomatic relief, although long-term use necessitates consideration of potential side effects.
  • Injections: Corticosteroids or viscosupplements may be injected into the joint to alleviate inflammation and improve mobility. Emerging therapies like PRP and stem cell injections show promise but require further research.
  • Physiotherapy: Targeted exercises and stretches enhance muscle strength and flexibility around the affected joints.
  • Braces and Supports: Ankle braces provide stability and alleviate pain, particularly during weight-bearing activities.
  • Podiatric Intervention: Podiatrists may address underlying biomechanical issues through gait analysis and orthotic devices, promoting proper foot alignment.

Surgery for Ankle Arthritis

Surgery can be a good option for patients with a disability caused by arthritis that is not relieved by non-surgical treatments. Different types of surgery are available depending on the stage of the condition and your surgeon will discuss those that may benefit you the most. Arthroscopy can be used to address some small areas of damaged cartilage. An osteotomy (leg realigning) that shifts the weight away from the damaged area can be successful in early stages. When the joint is damaged beyond repair either a fusion or a replacement will be indicated with their pros and cons and different recovery times.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of these conditions is crucial for seeking timely medical attention. Mr Francesc Malagelada is dedicated to diagnosing and treating various foot and ankle conditions, providing personalised treatment plans to address your specific needs and help you get back on your feet comfortably. Contact us and book an appointment today!

Keep in mind that our blog is also a great place if you’d like to stay updated on the latest orthopaedic news.

This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult your physician for personalised guidance. In case of a medical emergency, contact your doctor or emergency services.