Ankle Arthritis

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Ankle arthritis can be painful, uncomfortable and can impede an active lifestyle. At OrthoAspen, we’re dedicated to helping our patients find solutions to relieve the symptoms of ankle arthritis. Our ultimate goal is to enable patients to return to the active lifestyle they enjoy—safely and effectively.

Causes & Symptoms

Arthritis is the term used to describe inflammation from the degeneration of cartilage in the joint. The result is often pain, swelling and stiffness. Ankle fractures, dislocations, inflammatory disease and congenital deformity have been known to lead to arthritis.

Several areas of the ankle can be subjected to arthritis including:

  • The joint between the shin bone (tibia) and ankle bone (talus)
  • The three joints of the foot that include the heel bone, the inner mid-foot bone and the outer mid-foot bone
  • The joint of the great toe and foot bone

In addition to ankle arthritis affecting different locations of the ankle, there are also three variations of arthritis that can impact the ankle, which include:

  1. Osteoarthritis
    Also referred to as a degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and most often occurs in older populations. This disease affects cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of the bones in a joint. The cartilage wears away over time. In extreme cases, the cartilage can completely wear away, leaving nothing to protect the bones, eventually causing bone-on-bone contact. Bones may also bulge or stick out at the end of a joint (this is referred to as a bone spur).
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
    Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system (the body’s way of fighting infection) attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of function in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the joints of the hands and feet and tends to be symmetrical—the disease affects the same joints on both sides of the body. Both feet experience the same symptoms at the same time.

    Rheumatoid arthritis can be triggered by:

    Genes that are responsible for the disease are triggered by infection or environmental factors. With this trigger, the body produces antibodies, serving as a defense mechanism against the joint and may lead to rheumatoid arthritis.

    Fractures at joint surfaces and joint dislocations may predispose an individual to develop post-traumatic arthritis. The body secretes certain hormones following an injury which may cause the death of the cartilage cells. Uric acid crystal build-up is the cause of gout and long-term crystal build-up in the joints may cause deformity.
  3. Post-Traumatic Arthritis
    Arthritis development following an injury to the ankle or foot is called post-traumatic arthritis. The condition may develop years after a trauma—fracture, severe sprain or ligament tears.

Symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Limited range of motion

Our OrthoAspen elite-grade specialists are committed to finding the safest, most effective treatment so you can get back to your active lifestyle. To make an accurate diagnosis of ankle arthritis, your OrthoAspen doctor will assess your medical history, perform a physical examination and take X-rays of the affected joint. Your doctor may also conduct a bone scan, a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to diagnose arthritis.


Ankle arthritis can be treated with both non-surgical and surgical options.

Non-surgical treatment options for foot and ankle arthritis include:

  • Medications (anti-inflammatories)
  • Injections (steroids)
  • Physical therapy
  • Ankle-foot orthosis (AFO)
  • Weight loss
  • Orthotics such as pads or arch supports
  • Canes or braces to support the joints

When conservative treatment options don’t produce the desired outcome, your OrthoAspen foot and ankle specialist may suggest surgery.

Arthroscopic surgery is a surgical procedure performed to address ankle arthritis when non-surgical approaches haven’t been as successful.

In an arthroscopic surgery, a small incision is made through which pencil-sized instruments can pass. The arthroscope is made up of a small lens and lighting system designed to magnify and illuminate the structures of the joint. The light of the arthroscope utilizes fiber optics to transmit light. The device allows your surgeon to view the interior of the joint on a television monitor. This enables the use of probes, forceps, knives and shavers to clean the joint area of foreign tissue, inflamed tissue or bony outgrowths (spurs).

Your OrthoAspen surgeon may also recommend arthroplasty or joint replacement.

Arthroplasty involves removal of the damaged ankle joint which is then replaced with an artificial implant. This procedure is usually performed when the joint is severely damaged by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or post-traumatic arthritis. The goal of a total ankle replacement is to relieve pain and restore the normal function of the ankle joint.

No matter how your ankle arthritis treatment is approached, your OrthoAspen specialist will provide you with the tools necessary to maximize healing and ensure improved mobility.

If you’re concerned you may be experiencing ankle arthritis, our OrthoAspen team is here to help. To schedule a visit, simply click here or call us anytime at 970-544-1289.


Visit OrthoAspen in two convenient locations
Aspen Clinic
Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Rd., Suite 2100,

Aspen, CO 81611
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400
Basalt Clinic
Midvalley Medical Center
1450 E. Valley Rd., Suite 201,

Basalt, CO 81621
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400