The pain and stiffness you feel in your feet and ankles as you grow older could be arthritis. If left untreated, this nagging pain can grow worse, eventually becoming so excruciating that you can no longer walk even short distances. Severe arthritis can restrict your mobility and limit your quality of life, but with proper treatment, you can slow the development of arthritis and lead a more productive life.
Patients may experience pain in the lower shin (tibia), back of the foot, or middle of the foot. The pain may be aching and dull or sharp and intense. The pain may come and go or there may be a chronic low level of pain with intermittent flare-ups of more intense pain. In the early stages, many patients report experiencing pain only after certain activities that place strain on the ankle joint, such as jogging or extended walking. Typically, this ankle pain can be lessened with rest, elevating the foot, and an ice compress.
Swelling and bone friction make the ankle stiff and less flexible. The ankle’s range of motion can become more limited, making it difficult to point and flex the toes.
Inactivity makes it worse
Ankles can become stiff after prolonged inactivity. People with ankle osteoarthritis may find that stiffness and pain are most noticeable when they try to get out of bed in the morning or out of a chair after a long period of sitting.
When ankle cartilage wears away, the fibula, tibia and talus bones can rub together, resulting in irritation and swelling of the ankle.
Ankle popping or crunching
Sensing a crunching or hearing a popping or squeaking sound when pointing or flexing the toes is a sign that that cartilage has worn away and is not protecting the bones from friction. The medical term for this symptom is “crepitus.”
Walking may occasionally cause the ankle to lock or buckle, potentially causing the ankle to turn out or in. (These episodes can be reduced or eliminated by wearing supportive footwear with low heels.)
Gait is affected
Advanced osteoarthritis can cause the ankle cartilage to deteriorate unevenly. The bones and joint material can shift in an effort to compensate for the uneven deterioration. This can affect the way a person walks and eventually even cause arthritis in the knee and hip joints.
In most but not all cases, the symptoms of ankle osteoarthritis come and go, becoming worse and more frequent over months or years. Left untreated, ankle arthritis has the potential to severely impede mobility.
On the other hand, getting treatment in the early stages of arthritis can significantly slow the progression of symptoms.