Have you ever watched a bricklayer work? They trowel the mortar between the layers and sides of the bricks to fill in any gaps and hold them in the right position to form a straight, strong structure. Something similar occurs in your skeletal structure. A tissue called cartilage fills in gaps at the ends of the bones to make the joint fit together. In addition, it (with the synovial fluid) provides a smooth gliding surface between the bones in a joint. The result is a stable structure that—unlike a brick wall—allows for movement. Arthritis occurs when something happens to damage this cartilage.
What Causes Cartilage Damage?
When this condition affects the joints of the feet and ankles, it usually comes in one of four forms:
- Osteoarthritis: when the wear and tear of years of movement break down the cartilage in your joints. Your feet bear a lot of stress during your life, and since cartilage has no blood supply, it doesn’t heal well when it is damaged. As the tissue breaks down, it loses its cushioning ability and the ends of the bones end up rubbing against each other during movement. This bone-on-bone movement causes stiffness and pain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: when something triggers the cells in your immune system to attack your own joints. The linings of the joints become inflamed with redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes warmth as common symptoms. Constant inflammation damages the cartilage and bones, which can deteriorate to the point that the structure of the foot collapses. This form can cause severe deformity and limit mobility.
- Post-traumatic arthritis: when a previous injury makes your joint more prone to cartilage damage. One reason is that dislocations, fractures, andsprains may not heal properly, while another is that your body may produce hormones after an injury that cause the cells in your cartilage to die. This form can set in years after you’ve forgotten about the injury.
- Gout: when too much uric acid in your blood causes hard crystals to form in your joints. The most common site affected is your big toe, but other joints in your foot and ankle can be gouty as well. During an attack, the slightest pressure can cause severe pain, making it hard to move about.
Help for the Pain and Swelling
Treatment for this condition is threefold: medication, therapy, and surgery. We will help you decide what might work best for you. Some medications work to reduce your pain (analgesics) and swelling (anti-inflammatories), while others work to slow down your immune system (DMARDs and corticosteroids). Physical therapy can include exercises and stretches to strengthen muscles and increase your range of motion, as well as splints, braces, and custom shoes to provide the stability and support your damaged joints require. Surgery is usually reserved as a final option to replace degenerated joints or fuse them to improve stability.
Atlantic Foot & Ankle Associates has a great team of expert podiatrists who will work well with your care team to address arthritis issues in your feet and ankles. With in-office digital X-rays, you don’t need to go elsewhere for the imaging tests needed to diagnose your problem. Call one of our five east Florida locations and get help today: Daytona Beach at (386) 274-3336, Port Orange at (386) 788-6333, Palm Coast at (386) 586-7373, Orange City at (386) 775-2281, or Edgewater at (386) 957-4818.