Arthritic Conditions: Ankle Arthritis

Updated 12/1/2023

What's ankle arthritis? 

Ankle arthritis, a form of osteoarthritis, is a degenerative condition in which the cartilage and ligaments of the ankle joint wear thin and eventually break down.


Without cartilage to cushion and protect the bones from the friction of motion, bone fragments and spurs develop, causing joint pain and stiffness.


Ankle arthritis is a progressive degenerative disease, but getting treatment quickly can help preserve joint function and prevent permanent damage.

What are the causes of ankle arthritis?

Understanding the cause of your ankle arthritis can help our foot and ankle specialists prescribe the right course of treatment for you. 

The major types of arthritis that affect the ankle are:

Early stages of Ankle arthritis, University Foot and Ankle Institute
You may feel pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joint.


Post-traumatic arthritis 

A previous sprain or fracture can leave the ankle more prone to arthritis. An ankle that has been subject to some sort of trauma is around seven times more likely to develop arthritis.


As many as 80% of ankle arthritis cases can be classified as “post-trauma arthritis.” Although the original ankle fracture or sprain may have healed, physiological changes can occur in the ankle to compensate for the injury, resulting in osteoarthritis several years later.


Underlying medical conditions 

Between 10-15% of cases of ankle arthritis are caused by an underlying medical condition or autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, congenital structural defects, blood disorders, and conditions that cause poor circulation.


Although many aging adults dismiss ankle pain as another sign of “old age” or an old injury “acting up,” it’s important to seek help for chronic ankle pain. Several treatment options can slow the progress of ankle arthritis, relieve pain, and keep patients on their feet through their golden years.


What are the symptoms of ankle arthritis?

Symptoms usually develop gradually and worsen with time and overuse. They include:


  • Pain in the ankle, lower shin, mid-foot, or rearfoot. It can be dull or acute and chronic or intermittent.
  • Joint pain after daily activity. Walking or jogging can cause pain and swelling in the joint.
  • Swelling. As the cartilage wears thin, friction caused by regular ankle motion irritates the joint, causing swelling and discomfort.
  • Stiffness. The increased friction between bones can stiffen the joint, making simple foot functions like pointing and flexing the toes more difficult. The stiffness tends to worsen after long periods of inactivity.


How do the podiatrists at Univerity Foot & Ankle Institute diagnose ankle arthritis? 

Arthritis can be diagnosed with a full medical history, a physical exam, and advanced imaging technology. Our physician will examine your ankle for swelling, tenderness, joint damage, bone spurs, and evaluate your range of motion.


Typically, one or more of the following imaging tests are performed to confirm an osteoarthritis diagnosis:


X-ray and radiography

Although an X-ray can reveal signs of joint damage, it is not the most reliable indicator of osteoarthritis. However, it can aid in making a diagnosis along with a physical examination.



An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can provide a more complete picture of the location and degree of cartilage loss.

3D pedCAT 

The pedCAT is a weight-bearing CT scanning machine that produces a 3D image and allows your specialist to identify points of stress on your ankle while standing. UFAI is one of only a handful of clinics in California with pedCAT technology.


What are the treatments for ankle arthritis?

The goal of ankle arthritis treatment is to keep motion in the joint and provide long-term pain relief using the least invasive option possible. Non-operative treatment options can sometimes “buy time” for our younger patients and put off treating the ankle with a more invasive option until the future.


Non-surgical treatments for ankle arthritis 

Depending on your symptoms and what’s causing your arthritis, we might suggest one or more of these treatments:

  • Steroid injections in the affected joints.
  • Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), as well as prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help relieve pain and swelling.
  • Pads or arch supports in your shoes.
  • Canes or braces for support.
  • Shoe inserts (orthotics) that support your ankle and foot.
  • PT: Our physical therapists work directly with our foot and ankle specialists to ensure the most effective physical therapy to keep your muscles strong and flexible as long as possible.
  • Custom-fitted shoes.
  • Reduce high-impact activities to reduce stress on your joints.


Regenerative Therapy: Stem Cell and PRP Therapy

PRP for ankle arthritis, University Foot and Ankle institute

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) can regenerate new cartilage tissue

Regenerative medicine prompts the body to heals itself and offers many patients the best chance at improving long-term ankle function and joint restoration. At UFAI, we perform either stem cell therapy or platelet-rich plasma therapy, or a combination of both. Both therapies are minimally-invasive and can be used as an alternative or addition to surgery.


Stem cell injections use the patient’s own cells to trigger the body’s natural healing and regenerate their tissue. The stem cells replicate themselves, and nearby cells start to mimic them, promoting healing as well as producing an anti-inflammatory effect that can help reduce pain. Stem cell injections also contain hyaluronic acid, which lubricates joints and tendons, further easing pain and helping restore mobility.


Regenerative medicine is not a steroid injection. Corticosteroids suppress the body’s immune response, which is why steroid injections mixed with anesthetic can be used to reduce inflammation and pain in arthritic joints. However, this relief is typically short-lived and needs to be re-administered every three to four months. Long-term steroid use can further weaken cartilage and soft tissue.


Surgical options for ankle arthritis 

When ankle arthritis is severe, advanced, or not responding to more conservative treatments, we turn to surgery. The orthopedic surgeons at University Foot & Ankle Institute are trained in a wide range of surgical techniques to help relieve your ankle arthritis.


Minimally-invasive ankle arthroscopic surgery

This type of surgery cleans up the ankle joint, debriding scar tissue, damaged cartilage, loose cartilage, bone fragments, and bone spurs. Removing the damaged tissue or bone allows for restored mobility and decreased pain for your active life. It is generally performed on an outpatient basis.


Ankle arthroscopy is performed through two or three tiny incisions on the ankle. Our surgeon inserts tools and removes tissue through the small incisions, guided by a lighted camera. Stem cell therapy can be used in conjunction with ankle surgery to speed up the recovery process


Ankle arthrodiastasis

Often effective for severe arthritis, arthrodiastasis uses an external fixator to allow the ankle joint to repair itself. Arthrodiastasis is sometimes done in combination with ankle arthroscopy to clean out the joint as well as stem cell therapy to help produce healthy tissue.


Ankle joint replacement surgery

Total ankle replacement or ankle arthroplasty replaces the joint surfaces of the arthritic ankle with an artificial implant. Advances in biomedical technology have developed multiple types of implants to address individual patients’ needs


Choosing the best arthroplasty implant design for each patient is the first step toward a successful outcome. Our surgeons have extensive experience in all three types of ankle replacement surgery. This allows us to customize treatment and do what is best for each patient.


Ankle Fusion

Ankle fusion, also known as arthrodesis, is a surgical technique reserved for treating severe end-stage ankle arthritis. At UFAI, we prefer to explore all our other options before undergoing any surgical procedure, and we pride ourselves in avoiding fusion if at all possible


Ankle fusion is considered a joint-destructive procedure, meaning the patient will no longer have mobility in the joint. While this may sound extreme, patients with end-stage arthritis generally have already lost almost all ankle motion before treatment. Fusion can provide the ankle with stability and significantly reduce arthritis pain by immobilizing the joint.


UFAI, the Best Choice for Ankle Arthritis Treatment

When you choose the University Foot and Ankle Institute, you will quickly discover that you have chosen a compassionate team of healthcare experts with decades of combined experience. Our team of physicians uses state-of-the-art equipment, works directly with medical manufacturers to develop new technologies, and is one of the few foot and ankle practices in the nation that offer the latest treatment options for all stages of ankle arthritis.


To schedule a consultation, please call (855) 872-5249 or make an appointment now.


University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. Our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Santa Barbara, and Valencia.



ankle arthritis FAQs


Ankle Arthritis FAQs

What are the risk factors associated with ankle arthritis?

Arthritis is often associated with aging. Other risk factors for ankle arthritis include joint injury, obesity, and anatomic factors such as joint shape and alignment.


Is walking good for ankle arthritis?

Yes, walking can be beneficial for ankle arthritis as it helps maintain joint mobility and strengthens the surrounding muscles, which can support the affected joint. However, it's important to consult with our foot and ankle specialists to determine the appropriate level of activity and any modifications needed to manage ankle arthritis effectively


Can you also get arthritis in your big toe?

Yes, hallux rigidus is a form of arthritis that affects the big toe joint.


What is inflammatory arthritis?

Inflammatory arthritis is a category of autoimmune diseases. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis fall under this category, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues, primarily affecting the joints.


What is psoriatic arthritis?

Psoriatic arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that often accompanies the skin condition psoriasis.


What joints do ankle arthritis affect?

 Ankle arthritis affects the tibiotalar joint, which forms between the shin bone (tibia) and ankle bone (talus). 



Arthritis of the foot and ankle.



  • Foot and Ankle Surgeon at University Foot and Ankle Institute
    Dr. Johnson, Podiatrist

    Dr. Abimbola Johnson completed his undergraduate degree at Loyola University Chicago, where he played Division II rugby and was also involved in social justice clubs aimed at helping younger students prepare for college.


    Upon graduation, he entered Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, where he served as president of the practice management club and volunteered as coordinator at the Free Foot Clinic in Chicago. He served his residency at Regions Hospital/Health Partners in St. Paul.


    Dr. Johnson provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for a wide spectrum of foot and ankle conditions, including common and complex disorders and injuries. The doctor is uniquely qualified to detect the early stages of disease that exhibit warning signs in the lower extremities, such as diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.


    Dr. Johnson can be seen at our Santa Barbara location


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