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What is arthritis?
Arthritis in a broad term for a number of conditions that destroy the workings of a normal joint.  This is due to damage and loss of the joint cartilage (the soft tissue between joint bones).

Almost half of people in their 60s and 70s have arthritis of the foot and/or ankle.  There are many types of arthritis but they fall into three categories.

1.    Osteoarthritis (the most common type), results from the “wear and tear” damage to joint cartilage that comes with age.  The result is inflammation, swelling and pain in the joint.

2.    A traumatic injury such as a broken bone, torn ligament, or moderate ankle sprain can cause the injured joint to become arthritic in the future.  Sometimes a traumatic injury will result in arthritis in the injured joint even though the joint received proper medical care at the time of injury.

3.    Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition caused by an irritation of the joint lining (the synovium).  People with rheumatoid arthritis for at least 10 years almost always develop arthritis in some part of the foot or ankle.

Other types of inflammatory arthritis include gout, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Foot Anatomy

The foot has 28 bones and over 30 joints.  Tough bands of tissue called ligaments hold these together.  The muscles, tendons and ligaments work together with the many joints of the foot to control motion.  This smooth motion makes it possible for a person to walk well.  When you get arthritis in the foot, you develop pain and limited motion and cannot walk.

Treatment of Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Proper treatment of foot and ankle arthritis addresses both pain and joint deformity.  If left untreated, arthritis may cause the foot and ankle to eventually become deformed. X-rays and laboratory tests can often confirm the type and extent of the arthritis.  Others tests such as bone scans, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to evaluate your condition.

Treatment regimen may include medications by mouth (anti-inflammatories), injections (steroids), physical therapy, occupational therapy, or orthotics such as pads in your shoes, shoe inserts, additions to the insoles or heels or your shoes, or custom made braces.  Surgery may be necessary.  This may mean cleaning the arthritic joint, eliminating the painful motion of the joint, replacing the joint with an artificial joint or a combination of all these.

After surgery, you will require a period of rehabilitation when your foot might have to be in a cast and you might have to wear special shoes or braces for a while.

You Are an Important Part of the Treatment

Patients are often told they must live with arthritis but that does not mean that you have to stop living.  You should take an active part in your treatment; seek treatment for arthritis as early as possible to help control pain and reduce damage to the joint; take medications as directed, exercise, control your weight and participate in all aspects of your care.

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