How ankle arthritis is managed will depend on the progression of the disease and how much it interferes with daily activities. In the early stages of ankle arthritis, self-care might be enough to manage pain and keep moving.
Change Your Footwear
Wearing different shoes and other supportive devices can help reduce the pain associated with arthritis. When possible, choose high-top sneakers since they will provide more ankle support and help stabilize your ankle. Shoe inserts that provide additional heel cushioning can also reduce pain since there will be less stress on the heel and ankle when you walk. Talk with your podiatrist about other specialty products that may keep your ankle immobilized as you walk. Braces can be a good option. Depending on the amount of support offered by the brace and if the brace is harder, the brace may keep your ankle fully neutral.
There are several options you can use to help minimize pain. Most people with ankle arthritis will occasionally use NSAIDs, which helps with swelling and inflammation in addition to pain. Topical pain-relief products may also be effective, such as lidocaine creams or creams that are meant to administer heat or cold sensations. As ankle arthritis becomes worse, OTC products may no longer be helpful, or you may need to take them more often than recommended. Discuss the option of steroid injections with your podiatrist. Steroid injections might provide months of pain-relief, but the injections must be used sparingly to avoid potential complications associated with frequent steroid use.
As your ankle degenerates more and makes basic activities impossible, it is probably time to talk with your doctor about surgery. There are two types of surgery that can be effective for ankle arthritis: replacement and fusion. A total ankle replacement is the preferred option because it removes the arthritic portion of the joint and replaces it with a synthetic joint. Unlike a joint fusion, you continue to retain motion in your ankle, so rehabilitation after surgery will likely be easier. Regardless of the type of surgery you have, you can expect several weeks of physical therapy (PT). Regularly engaging in PT can help reduce scar tissue formation that could hinder movement of the artificial joint. People who have a fusion will need to learn how to walk without flexing their ankle.
In the early stages of arthritis, OTC pain-relief treatments and changing your footwear to provide more support will dramatically help. As the ankle loses more cartilage, medical treatments, even surgery, will become necessary to stop the impact of arthritis on your life. Talk to a local ankle doctor to learn more.