Ankle arthritis (or ankle pain) describes conditions of the ankle (tibiotalar) joint in which the cartilage has undergone wear and tear. There are various grades of ankle arthritis ranging from mild to severe.

“Cartilage performs a shock absorption and cushioning function of the joint and when there is a loss of cartilage, patients present with pain and swelling of the (ankle) joint made worse by activity. This, in severe cases, is also associated with a decrease in the range of motion of the ankle joint,” explained the Department of Orthopedic Surgery from Sengkang General Hospital (SKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Causes of ankle arthritis

The most common cause of ankle arthritis (almost two-thirds of patients) is described as a post-traumatic cause. A post-traumatic cause often refers to a neglected or unaddressed fracture of the ankle joint or a very severe sprain of the ankle with a significant injury to stabilising ligaments of the ankle joint.

This usually results in abnormal forces through the ankle joint leading to early wear and degeneration of the cartilage of the ankle joint.

Tips to minimise risk of ankle arthritis

If you experience an ankle injury such as a sprain with swelling and pain, be sure to have it assessed thoroughly with a physical examination and radiograph. This is to exclude fractures and severe ligament injuries that may require further medical intervention.

Those who are more prone to ankle sprains such as those with flat feet and high arches (pes cavus), may also benefit from footwear modification from podiatrists. Such modifications can help stabilise the ankle, preventing injury.

Furthermore, physiotherapists can recommend special muscle-strengthening and calf-stretching exercises to further reduce ankle injury rates.

If I already have ankle arthritis, what can I do?

Steps you can take to lessen the pain from ankle arthritis are:

  1. Wear comfortable, proper shoes (such as a sole rocker)

  2. Make certain shoe modifications and wear special insoles (as recommended by a podiatrist)

  3. Perform calf-stretching and muscle-strengthening exercises regularly to increase flexibility of the ankle joint and range of movement

  4. Engage in lesser-impact sports such as cycling and swimming

  5. Adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. A weight loss of even two kilograms can make a significant impact on the severity of pain felt

“If the (ankle) pain becomes chronic, is present at rest without movement, and affects one’s quality of life, it is wise to seek medical attention as it is a sign that the arthritis is severe and in such cases, operative intervention may be necessary to relieve pain,” the departmend advised.

Ankle replacement surgery to treat ankle arthritis

Total ankle replacement (also called ankle arthroplasty) is a surgical option for end-stage ankle arthritis. It can relieve ankle pain and restore motion when nonsurgical treatments are no longer effective.

Traditionally, ankle replacements were done using an anterior approach (from the front of the ankle). However, SKH performed the first-of-its-kind lateral total ankle replacement operation in Southeast Asia earlier in 2019.

To learn more about lateral total ankle replacement surgery, click here.

Ref: M19

Check out other common foot conditions:

Bunions: Common Causes and Treatment

Heel Pain (Plantar Fasciitis): Treatment and Remedies

Achilles Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Guide to Treating Ankle Sprains

Ingrown Toenails: How to Treat and Prevent

Choosing Shoes for Your Feet