Osteoarthritis is a condition characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage in one or more joints. Cartilage – the connective tissue found at the end of the bones in the joints – protects and cushions the bones during movement. When cartilage deteriorates, symptoms develop that can restrict one’s ability to easily perform daily activities.
Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative arthritis (as opposed to rheumatoid arthritis which is an auto-immune disorder), reflecting its nature to develop as part of the aging process. As the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects millions of Americans. Osteoarthritis appears at various joints throughout the body, and most frequently in the big toe in the foot.
People with osteoarthritis in the foot or ankle experience, in varying degrees, one or more of the following symptoms: pain and stiffness in the joint, swelling near the joint, difficulty walking or bending the joint, and some may develop a bone spur at the affected joint.
Osteoarthritis is considered a “wear and tear” disease because the cartilage in the joint wears down with repeated stress and use over time. As the cartilage deteriorates and gets thinner, the bones lose their protective covering and eventually may rub together, causing pain and inflammation of the joint. An injury may also lead to osteoarthritis, although it may take months or years after the injury for the condition to develop. For example, osteoarthritis in the big toe is often caused by kicking or jamming the toe, or by dropping something on the toe. In the midfoot it is often caused by dropping something on it, or by a sprain or fracture. Osteoarthritis in the ankle is usually caused by a fracture and occasionally by a severe sprain. Sometimes osteoarthritis develops as a result of abnormal foot mechanics. People who have flat feet or high arches are at increased risk for developing osteoarthritis in the foot. A flat foot causes less stability in the ligaments, resulting in excessive strain on the joints, which can cause arthritis. A high arch is rigid and lacks mobility, causing a jamming of joints that increased risk of arthritis.
In diagnosing osteoarthritis, Dr. Mendoza will examine the foot thoroughly, looking for swelling in the joint, limited mobility, and pain with movement. In some cases, a bone spur may be noted. X-rays will often be ordered to help evaluate the extent of the disease in the foot and ankle and make sure there are no fractures.
Oral anti-inflammatory drugs, orthotic devices, bracing, immobilization, and steroid injections are often used as conservative treatment. If non-surgical treatment fails to adequately reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis, Dr. Mendoza may recommend surgery.
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