Arthritis of the Ankle

Feb 9, 2022 | Blog

Even though arthritis of the ankle is much less common when compared to arthritis of other joints, like hips, knees, and shoulders, it’s still a condition routinely diagnosed and treated by orthopaedic surgeons. Arthritis of the ankle can occur after events such as ankle fractures, a bad ankle sprain, or even leg fractures.


Symptoms of Ankle Arthritis

Arthritis is the loss of cartilage (aka, “padding”) within a joint, and is often accompanied by bone spurs. Arthritis of the ankle – which is sometimes associated with “loose ankles” – will typically cause pain and stiffness in the joint, making everyday tasks like walking more and more difficult and the condition progresses.


How is Ankle Arthritis Diagnosed?

Arthritis of the ankle is diagnosed via a thorough history and examination (performed by your orthopaedic surgeon), as well as weight-bearing x-rays, which are considered the “gold standard” for the detection and diagnosis of ankle arthritis. Occasionally, a CT scan or an MRI of the ankle can aid in the diagnosis if the arthritis in the joint is more mild in nature.


How is Ankle Arthritis Treated?

There are both non-operative and operative treatment options available. How the condition is treated varies by individual and is something your orthopaedic surgeon will discuss with you.

While there are no treatment options that can cause cartilage to regenerate, many non-operative treatments of arthritis in the ankle are similar to the way we treat arthritis of the hip, knee, and shoulder. These include things like:

  • Low impact exercise
  • Activity modification
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Braces
  • PT
  • Ankle joint steroid injections

Surgical treatment options for ankle arthritis include:

  • Arthroscopy of the ankle, which “cleans up” loose cartilage and bone spurs within the joint. Recovery typically involves splinting and 2 weeks of non-weight bearing activity.
  • Ankle fusion, which involves growing the leg bone (tibia) to the talus with plates and/or screws. This is more commonly done with younger patients and those with a more severe deformity. Recovery for ankle fusion involves weekly compressive dressings for 3 weeks, followed by 3 weeks in a “boot”. Weight bearing typically begins around 6 weeks post-op.
  • Ankle replacement. An ankle replacement allows the patient to maintain their ankle range of motion.  Ankle replacement recovery begins with a splint and weekly compressive dressings to aid in incisional healing – around week 3 post-op patients transition to a “boot” and can begin bearing weight on the new joint. Physical therapy takes place six weeks following surgery.

Additional information on ankle replacement and ankle fusion can be found here:

If you’ve been dealing with ankle pain and/or ankle stiffness – be it due to injury, a series of injuries, or something that has occurred over time – we can help! The orthopaedic surgeons here at Nebraska Orthopaedic Center are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis. To schedule an appointment, please call 402-436-2000.