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Your Ankle Arthritis Questions Answered

Pain in your ankle due to ankle arthritis can make everyday activities challenging, especially if it reduces your mobility. We answered common questions about ankle arthritis to help you manage your symptoms and limit disruptions to your day-to-day life.

What are the different types of ankle arthritis?

Ankle arthritis can result over time from an injury, immune disorder, or wear-and-tear from everyday activities.

Posttraumatic arthritis accounts for over half of all cases of ankle arthritis and is more common among younger, active people. This long-term condition is sparked by an acute injury or series of injuries. Although bones and tissue may heal from a fracture or sprain, the joint may remain out of alignment, causing friction and eventually deterioration of the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an immunodeficiency that results in arthritis. The exact cause of the condition is unclear, but it is thought to be a genetic issue that is triggered by an infection or environmental irritation. This causes the body’s immune system to attack the synovium (soft tissue lining) between bones in the joint. The joint then swells, losing critical space that otherwise allows for smooth motion. As friction increase, cartilage wears down until eventually bone is grinding against bone.

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a wear-and-tear form of arthritis caused by a loss of cartilage from years of everyday stress and activity. The breakdown of cartilage leads to greater friction, more joint pain, and with the loss of that protective layer, more damage to the joint.

What does arthritis of the ankle feel like?

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, most people with ankle arthritis feel pain and inflammation in their joint. Some forms of arthritis (like osteoarthritis) cause a general pain, while other forms (like posttraumatic arthritis) cause a specifically located pain. Symptoms usually develop over time, but a sudden onset is also possible. People with ankle arthritis may also experience:

  • Catching or locking
  • Clicking
  • Painful incidents of the joint giving out
  • A changed gait when walking
  • Severe loss of function
  • Joint swelling, warmth, and redness
  • Tenderness when pressure is applied

Does ankle arthritis go away?

Although damage caused by arthritis is permanent, symptoms are treatable. Lifestyle modifications, assistive devices, and medications can relieve pain and slow symptom progression. If you have late- or end-stage arthritis and non-surgical treatments were unsuccessful, your Orthopedic surgeon may recommend total ankle replacement surgery or ankle joint fusion surgery.

How can I relieve ankle arthritis pain non-surgically?

Typically, your Orthopedic surgeon will first recommend non-surgical options to manage ankle arthritis pain, like lifestyle modifications, assistive devices, and medications.

Lifestyle Modifications

Limit the stress applied to your ankle to reduce pain and slow ankle arthritis symptom progression with lifestyle modifications like:

  • Minimizing movements that worsen pain
  • Switching from high-impact activities (like jogging or tennis) to low-impact activities (like swimming or cycling)
  • Losing weight to reduce the stress put on your ankle

Assistive Devices

Assistive devices may also provide pain relief. Wearing an ankle brace can help improve mobility, and shoe inserts or custom-made shoes with stiff soles and rocker bottoms can help minimize pressure put on your foot.


There are many medications that can help alleviate joint pain caused by arthritis. Always talk to your doctor before taking any new medications, as it may cause side effects or interact with another medication you are taking. Your doctor may also recommend an alternative option or dose because everyone reacts to medications differently.

Over-the-counter, non-narcotic pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first suggestions. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) include ibuprofen and naproxen and are available over-the-counter and by prescription. People with certain health conditions should be cautious when taking NSAIDs or avoid them altogether. Acetaminophen is another medication that can relieve pain, especially for those who cannot take traditional NSAIDs.

What surgery is done for ankle arthritis?

If non-surgical treatments do not ease your ankle pain, total ankle replacement surgery or ankle fusion surgery may provide a solution for long-term relief.

Total Ankle Replacement Surgery

During a total ankle replacement surgery, your Orthopedic surgeon begins by making an incision at the side or back of the ankle. The affected bone is removed and replaced with three components made of plastic and metal: the polyethylene insert, a tibial component, and a talar component. Together the three pieces will absorb the stress of the patient standing and walking and provide motion similar to the ankle joint.

Ankle Joint Fusion Surgery

An ankle joint fusion surgery involves the Orthopedic surgeon making an incision at the heel, cleaning the area around the joint, removing tissue debris and bone spurs, and trimming damaged and frayed cartilage. Articular cartilage (tissue that covers the ends of bones) is removed from the area between the two sections of the ankle joint, exposing healthy bone. The two parts are then aligned and fixed together with screws. The exposed bone allows the separate parts of the ankle to heel together as a single bone, like a bone healing from a fracture.

Help for Ankle Arthritis at Sauk Prairie Healthcare

Sauk Prairie Healthcare is here to help you manage and treat your arthritis. Dr. Andrew Ertl is our Orthopedic surgeon with special training in foot and ankle surgery and is one of a few specialists in the region offering total ankle replacement surgery.

If you are not ready for surgery, our physical therapists can provide education, exercises, and hands-on treatments to help manage your pain.

To schedule an appointment, call the Orthopedics Nurse Navigator at 608-643-7689.