What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that causes the surfaces of the joints to break down, resulting in painful inflammation in the joints. The condition becomes more common with older age as years of wear and tear begin to damage the cartilage that covers joint surfaces and helps joints move without pain or friction. Arthritis also more common among athletes and among people who are overweight. Osteoarthritis is one of two major forms of arthritis; the second form is rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that develops when the immune system begins attacking and destroying the joint tissues. There are other less common forms of arthritis as well, all of which cause joint tissue destruction.

What symptoms does arthritis cause?

The most common symptom of arthritis is any pain in the joints, especially when the joints are moved or when pressure is applied. Stiffness and a decreased range of motion also occur as the joint becomes less flexible. Without treatment, joints can become swollen and deformed, and they may feel warm to the touch.

How does osteoarthritis affect the feet?

Arthritis in the feet often affects the big toe joint. Sometimes, arthritis develops here as a result of normal wear and tear, and sometimes it occurs when the joint is damaged by another condition, like bunions. In addition to the big toe, the ankle joint and the joints between the bones of the midfoot region can also develop arthritis, resulting in pain and stiffness when walking and, in more advanced cases, even while resting.

How is arthritis treated?

Foot and ankle arthritis is managed conservatively when possible using medication to decrease pain and swelling. Ice and heat therapy and gentle stretching may also help. When these conservative approaches don’t work, surgery may be necessary to remove bone spurs or to fuse the joints to prevent painful friction.