The foot contains 28 bones and more than 30 joints. When arthritis develops in any of the joints of the foot, it can cause pain and create difficulty walking. In some cases, arthritis of the foot and ankle can be managed with orthotics, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. When conservative treatment fails, surgery to restore movement is necessary.

Reasons for treatment

The types of arthritis that typically affect the foot and ankle are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout. Arthritis may affect the ankle joint, the big toe joint, the joints in the midfoot, and the three joints in the hindfoot.

When arthritis progresses to the point where it interferes with walking and other daily activities, surgery becomes necessary to restore the function of the joint. If left untreated, arthritis can weaken foot and ankle joints to the point where fracture is imminent. Chronic deformities may develop along with ulcers and open sores.

How arthritis surgery is performed

The procedure recommended by your physician will depend on the type of arthritis you have, the location of the arthritis, and the progression of the disease. Three surgical procedures are designed to treat arthritis of the foot and ankle: arthroscopic debridement, joint fusion, and joint replacement.

Arthroscopic Debridement

Arthroscopic surgery is helpful in the treatment of early stage arthritis. During the first part of the procedure, a thin arthroscope with a small camera lens is inserted into the joint, allowing the surgeon to view damage to the joint. During the second stage of surgery, the surgeon clears away any foreign tissue or bony spurs.

Joint Fusion

Another type of surgery used to treat arthritis is joint fusion, or arthrodesis. This procedure eliminates the arthritic joint. The surgeon fuses the affected bones together, making one continuous bone. The bones are held in place by screws or pins until they begin to fuse together.

Joint Replacement

For patients with advanced arthritis, surgeons recommend joint replacement. During a joint replacement procedure, the ankle joint is replaced with an artificial joint. The goal of the procedure is to eliminate pain and improve mobility. However, there is a small risk that the artificial joint will eventually fail and require replacement later in life.

Surgery to treat arthritis of the foot and ankle can be very painful and require a long recovery period. However, when conservative treatments fail, surgery is the only means of restoring movement and improving quality of life.


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