Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that can cause pain and inflammation in any of the joints in the foot. Some of the common joints include the metatarsophalangeal joint, subtalar joint, or inter-joint. In total, your foot has 30 joints and 28 bones, so there are a lot of small areas of the foot and ankle that can cause this condition. They might involve the joints closest to the toes, heel, ankles, or shins.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Foot

The main symptom of osteoarthritis in any part of the body, including the foot, is pain. However, depending on where the arthritis is located and how severe it is, that pain can anything from a dull throb to a severe ache or pinching-type pain.

When an arthritis joint becomes inflamed, you’ll often experience pain. You might notice that the pain starts very mildly, but gradually increases as you notice swelling and inflammation of certain parts of the foot. Some arthritis sufferers notice that the pain is worse in the morning after waking up and stepping on the floor for the first time.

In addition to tenderness of the foot, you might also notice swelling or stiffness in the joint. This can make it harder to move the foot, bear weight, and walk on it, both from the stiffness and the pain that this causes.

Walking, running, or doing other vigorous activities cause your pain to worsen. Having redness or warmth of the joints is also a prevalent symptom of osteoarthritis in the foot.

Causes of Osteoarthritis of the Foot

The most common cause of osteoarthritis of the foot is the aging process. It is known as a degenerative type of arthritis that occurs due to wear and tear of the joint. For this reason, it is more common in older adults. However, someone that is younger can also get the condition.

When cartilage of the bone joints to wear away, it causes the bones to rub together, leading to pain and inflammation.

Other potential causes for osteoarthritis of the foot include:

  • Family history of osteoarthritis

  • Flat feet

  • Arch in the feet

  • Foot abnormalities

  • Obesity

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis of the Foot

For diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the foot, your Pensacola foot and ankle specialist begins with a physical examination and asking questions about your medical history. If you are an older adult or have relatives with osteoarthritis, diagnosis of this condition is typically a straightforward process.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor might want to perform X-rays of the foot. This might also include a weight-bearing X-ray to see how the joints and bones in the foot react. Some other imaging tests that help with the diagnosis process include CT and MRI scans.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Foot

The main goal of treating osteoarthritis in the foot is to reduce pain and get back proper movement. This is done with both non-surgical and surgical treatments.

Some non-surgical treatments include:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications

  • Wearing arch supports

  • Using topical medications. 

  • Steroid injections.

  • Getting custom orthotics

  • Wearing braces

  • Weight loss

  • Exercise / Physical Therapy

  • Physical therapy exercises

Surgical treatments

Surgery, such as arthroscopic debridement, might be needed if the pain doesn’t subside.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will an MRI show osteoarthritis?

Doctors may use an MRI test to determine if you have osteoarthritis and make a diagnosis. Once you've had an MRI, you'll go back to your orthopedist's office for a follow-up visit. During this visit, your doctor will go over your MRI results. If the MRI images show signs of osteoarthritis, they will give you a physical exam, go over your family history, review your symptoms and discuss treatment options.

Q: Will osteoarthritis spread?

Although OA affects a single joint, it involves other joints as it progresses. Sometimes, OA pain in one of your joints, such as your knee or ankle, can force changes in the way you stand, walk or move. It could even force your other joints like your spine or hip joints out of alignment.

Q: Why does osteoarthritis become worse over time and what causes that?

The release of degradative and debris enzymes can irritate your joints. The degradative enzymes produce more synovial fluid than normal to lubricate your damaged joint and dilute troublesome substances. When you have a flare-up of OA, lesions can get worse and persist if you don't rest the joint and receive treatment.

The main symptom of osteoarthritis is joint pain. Joint pain occurs when your affected area cartilage wears away and exposes the ends of your bones leading them to rub against one another. Other reasons OA can become worse include:

  • Increased pain sensitivity and lack of sleep
  • Weak muscles
  • Lyme disease
  • Compensation pain
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Dehydration

Q: Are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis the same?

They aren't the same thing. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder developing due to extreme cartilage wear between your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder causing your immune system to attack a healthy body. RA affects your whole body, while OA only affects your joints.

Q: Why does osteoarthritis cause fatigue?

When you have OA, you typically need to put in extra effort to perform your basic everyday activities, which can make you feel tired. Also, cytokines (chemical mediators) cause inflammation leading to fatigue.

Q: Will osteoarthritis go away or is there a cure?

Although your OA doesn't go away, the pain associated with it can. You can treat the symptoms, but you should also realize that you don't necessarily need to treat OA's bony anatomy. If you treat the inflammation and your muscles are strengthened and stretched properly around your joints, your symptoms won't come back despite your bony anatomy remaining unchanged.

The only real way to change OA's bony anatomy is to change them surgically. This, however, will not provide a guarantee that future OA changes won’t impact your joints.

Q: Can osteoarthritis be reversed?

Research shows that combining standard OA therapies with a nutritional program just may reverse your OA. In fact, there is significant evidence around OA being completely reversible. There have been spontaneous human remissions reported. Long-term medications and intense physical therapy can stop juvenile chronic arthritis.

Q: Can osteoarthritis cripple you?

OA can limit joint motions and cause pain that's so severe it can be disabling. You may not be able to carry out your routine daily living activities like bending over, getting dressed or walking. However, most OA patients don't become disabled from the condition. And you can manage your OA and prevent future disability by exercising, losing weight and taking other steps.

Q: Why is osteoarthritis pain worse at night?

If you're experiencing night pain, it usually indicates how severe your OA is and if you need more treatment like surgery, for instance. Your pain may get more noticeable when you're not doing anything and you may have trouble getting to sleep. If pain wakes you up during the night, this could be an indication that your OA is at a stage that's more advanced.

OSTEOARTHRITIS