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Living a good life with arthritis

When the smooth layer of cartilage that covers a person’s foot and ankle bones wears away, the bones rub against each other and can cause pain, swelling and loss of motion.

Foot and ankle arthritis usually occurs because of natural aging, obesity, injury, repeated stress, genetics or joint shape. Many people will experience pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling and difficulty walking.

“People with arthritis may notice that their ankle won’t bend and flex completely due to pain and stiffness,” said Nathan L. Gause, MD, an MU Health Care surgeon with Liberty Hospital Orthopaedics.

“When the pain, swelling or loss of motion are no longer controlled with home remedies such as activity modification, over-the-counter medications, supportive shoes, etc., then a person should consider consulting with a physician.”

The initial care for arthritis of the foot and ankle can begin with either a primary care provider or an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Gause says. As the most experienced CT guided total ankle surgeon in the Northland, Dr. Gause offers these answers to his patients’ most commonly asked questions.

What is arthritis?
Arthritis is the narrowing of a joint caused by the erosion of the joint lining (cartilage). The most common type of arthritis is “wear-and-tear” arthritis, or naturally-occurring joint space narrowing with use over time.

Can exercise help people who develop arthritis of the foot and ankle?
Absolutely. Deliberate motion is important for people who develop wear-and-tear of the joints and can prevent progressive stiffness. I encourage focused stretching exercises to lengthen tendons (Achilles, hamstrings, quadriceps) along with strengthening exercises to help to improve joint motion. A home exercise program is recommended for early stage arthritis. However, when symptoms progress and productive exercise at home no longer works, then seeing a physical therapist may prove helpful.

When does surgery become a good option?
Surgery becomes a reasonable alternative when conservative treatment no longer relieves a person’s symptoms and everyday tasks become difficult to complete.

What surgical options are available for foot and ankle arthritis?
At Liberty Hospital Orthopaedics I treat ankle arthritis with a fusion or seizing the joint to remove the pain; osteotomy or cutting the bone to decrease pressure on the joint; or a complete joint replacement which involves new parts and pieces.

“Overall, when symptoms are no longer controlled and a person doesn’t have normal use of their foot or ankle, that is the time to schedule an appointment to talk about what can be done,” Dr. Gause says. “Both conservative or non-surgical and surgical options are available to help minimize pain, swelling and a loss of motion due to arthritis and allow people to return to living their best life.”

Learn more about Foot & Ankle care with Dr. Nathan Gause