What Is Osteoarthritis and What Causes It?
Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative or “wear and tear” arthritis. It can occur in the feet after trauma but also overtime as cartilage is worn out and the bones of the feet rub together causing inflammation. When there has been no previous trauma, the arthritis is likely due to abnormal architecture of the foot leading to abnormal mechanics which overtime cause joints of the feet to wear out.
Typical symptoms of osteoarthritis are stiffness, pain, and swelling of joints.
X-Rays are usually taken initially and may reveal joint space narrowing, bone spurs, loose pieces of bone, and/or bone cysts. Sometimes more involved imaging is needed such as an MRI or CT scan.
- Oral medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can be used to reduce joint inflammation and pain.
- Custom Orthotics. Custom orthotic devices in conjunction with supportive shoes are helpful to provide support and reduce stress on certain joints.
- Steroid injections. Steroid injections into the joint using a form of cortisone can be performed. These can provide temporary, localized relief but do tend to be less effective over time.
When conservative treatment has not been effective, surgical treatment may be considered. Typically this includes a fusion of the arthritic joint. Simply put, a fusion of a foot joint includes removing the cartilage from the joint and placing hardware across it so that the bone grows together and the joint is eliminated.
Fusion of foot joints can effectively reduce disabling arthritis pain. Many joints in the foot are considered “non-essential, ”meaning that after they are fused, there is little negative impact on the function of the foot, mobility, and activity.
Although the approach may vary depending on the joint, the general principles remain the same: remove any remaining cartilage and the underlying dense arthritic bone from the joint, correct any existing deformity, and stabilize the fusion while it heals.
Methods of stabilization may also vary from patient to patient depending on a multitude of different factors which will be discussed in detail with your foot and ankle specialist. Non union (lack of fusion) is a complication that occurs sometimes after fusion attempts. This can require reoperation if pain continues. Other complications can include fusion in less than an ideal position, aggravation of arthritis of adjacent joints, and hardware irritation.
We encourage you to make an appointment to have your foot pain evaluated. We are your Seattle area ankle and foot experts from Bothell to Smokey Point and Lynnwood to Arlington.