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Ankle Arthritis

  • The ankle joint is subject to osteoarthritis, but less frequently than other joints, such as the hip and knee .
  • Trauma and abnormal ankle mechanics are the most common causes of ankle arthritis.
  • Demographically, posttraumatic ankle arthritis presents in a younger age group than does primary osteoarthritis.
  • Chronic ankle instability, OCDs, and osteonecrosis also lead to degenerative arthritis.
  • Ankle and foot arthritis are common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory arthropathies.
  • Cartilage in the ankle is thinner and more uniform in its matrix than is that in the hip and knee .
Geriatric Considerations
Caution with NSAIDs or COX-2 inhibitors for symptomatic treatment because of potential cardiovascular complications
Pediatric Considerations
No specific considerations
Pregnancy Considerations
To avoid bleeding complications, do not treat a symptomatic pregnant patient with NSAIDs.
General Prevention
  • Proper treatment of ankle fractures may decrease the development of posttraumatic arthritis .
  • Weight loss is helpful in reducing joint loading, which may help to slow or prevent the development of arthritis.
Symptomatic ankle arthritis is rare and has been reported to be 9 times less common than symptomatic knee and hip arthritis (6).
Risk Factors
  • Ankle trauma
  • Ankle instability
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Trauma:
    • Malleolar fractures
    • Tibial plafond (pilon) fractures
    • Talar fractures
  • Ankle instability
  • Inflammatory disease (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Osteonecrosis
  • OATS of the talus
  • Infection
Signs and Symptoms
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Giving way or locking
  • Stiffness
  • Deformity
  • Identify previous trauma and treatment.
  • Identify underlying medical problems.
Physical Exam
  • Examine the patient (seated and standing).
  • Palpate for ankle joint effusion or warmth.
  • Assess ROM and ankle ligament stability.
  • Palpate the ankle joint line for tenderness and differentiate it from subtalar pain.
  • Assess motor and sensory function to evaluate for neurologic impairment.
  • Palpate dorsalis pedis and posterior tibial pulses; check capillary refill.
  • Observe gait pattern, identify antalgic pattern, and identify external rotation or circumduction secondary to diminished dorsiflexion
  • Radiography:
    • Obtain standard radiographs of the ankle, including AP, lateral, and mortise views.
    • Assess for arthritic changes, including joint space narrowing, subchondral cysts, osteophytes, and sclerosis.
  • A CT scan may show the extent of the arthritis, including subtalar involvement.
  • Consider MRI if an OATS, osteonecrosis, or tumor is suspected on radiographs, or to evaluate further for soft-tissue and/or tendinous abnormalities.
Differential Diagnosis
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Osteonecrosis/AVN
  • Posterior tibial tendinitis
  • Subtalar joint arthritis
  • Tumor
General Measures
  • First line treatment is generally nonoperative.
    • NSAIDs
    • Orthotic devices, including ankle-foot orthosis (brace)
    • Footwear modifications (e.g., rocker bottom sole, solid ankle cushion heel)
    • Intra-articular corticosteroid injections
    • Weight loss
  • If nonoperative treatment is ineffective after 6 months, the patient may be counseled about surgery.
  • The patient should decrease excessive walking and avoid high-impact activities such as running, jumping, or cutting maneuvers.
  • Encourage low-impact exercise, including stationary bicycle and aquatic exercises.
  • Consider use of assistive devices such as a cane or crutches.
Special Therapy
Physical Therapy
Not typically prescribed in primary management but may be useful postoperatively
Medication (Drugs)
First Line
  • NSAIDs
  • Analgesics
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
It is unclear if glucosamine is efficacious in the treatment of ankle arthritis.
  • Considered after failure of nonsurgical measures
  • Ankle arthroscopy can be used for debridement of impinging osteophytes, loose bodies, and chondral defects.
  • Articular distraction arthroplasty of ankle joint with external fixation is an option for mild to moderate stages of arthritis .
  • Supramalleolar tibial osteotomy for fracture malunion, tibial malalignment, or partial joint arthritic involvement
  • Ankle arthrodesis (fusion) via screw fixation is the gold standard of salvage surgery for ankle arthritis .
    • Fusion has the widest indications, including posttraumatic or degenerative arthritis, postinfection arthritis, large OCDs, rheumatoid or inflammatory arthritis, and talar osteonecrosis
    • Patients generally are satisfied with outcomes and pain relief despite limitations in ROM.
  • Total ankle arthroplasty is becoming more accepted with the introduction of later-generation designs .
    • Possible advantages compared with fusion: Greater ROM and potential for less hindfoot/midfoot arthritis from altered mechanics
    • Disadvantages compared with fusion: More perioperative complications, finite lifespan of implants, potential for implant failure and bony loss that can complicate future revision surgery
  • Prognosis is fair.
  • Many patients with severe arthritis ultimately need surgery to control pain.
  • Nonoperative treatment: Few complications
  • Surgical management: Wound-healing problems, malalignment, secondary hindfoot and midfoot arthritis, infection, and damage to local nerves and blood vessels
Patient Monitoring
The patient with ankle arthritis should be followed to monitor symptoms and to discuss treatment options.
Q: What is the most common cause of ankle arthritis?
A: Trauma.
Q: How does arthritis of the ankle differ from arthritis of the hip and knee?
A: Most cases of ankle arthritis are posttraumatic in nature and present at a younger age than do hip or knee arthritis, which are typically primary osteoarthritis.
Q: What are potential nonsurgical treatment options?
A: Activity modification, medications, corticosteroid injections, brace, shoe modifications, cane.
Q: What is currently the most common surgical option for severe ankle arthritis?
A: Ankle arthrodesis (fusion).

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