The ankle might be far more resilient to arthritis than the knee, but that doesn’t make ankle arthritis any easier to live with. As ankle pain, swelling, and instability are common symptoms, the condition can drastically affect your quality of life. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to minimise these symptoms and even slow the rate of degeneration.
Anatomy of ankle arthritis
There are three major types of arthritis affecting the ankle:
- Osteoarthritis develops due to gradual wear and tear of the joint cartilage.
- Posttraumatic Arthritis develops after an injury. While the ankle is highly resistant to osteoarthritis, injury can change the joint structure and stop it from tracking properly, causing cartilage degeneration. According to a review published in the National Library of Medicine, 80% of patients with osteoarthritis develop it after sustaining trauma to the ankle.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis is a bit different. Instead of gradual degeneration, your cartilage gets attacked by your body’s immune system.
No matter the type of arthritis, symptoms remain largely the same. You’ll generally get swelling, stiffness (especially in the mornings), warmth, redness, and pain that worsens after a long period of rest or activity. But as rheumatoid arthritis affects your immune system, you may get a fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite on top of the usual symptoms.
Symptom severity largely depends on the stage of your condition. Initially, you may just get some discomfort that comes and goes. In later stages, as the cartilage between the tibia, fibula, and talus wears away, pain may become constant.
How to manage ankle arthritis
Exercise is essential both for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But when it comes to exercise, you should avoid high-impact activities like jogging, martial arts, and most ball-and-racquet sports, as they can aggravate your symptoms. Instead, you can do the following:
- Cycling and swimming to get the blood pumping through the ankle joint without putting much pressure on it.
- And walking, as the combination of gentle impact and movement gets vital nutrients into avascular cartilage.
You should also add some at-home ankle strengthening and stretching exercises to your routine.
This exercise targets the muscles at the top of your foot, your shin, and the front of your ankle joint.
- Attach a resistance band to a pole or a heavy piece of furniture
- Sit on the floor with your leg stretched straight before you
- Loop the other end of the band around the top of your foot
- Gently bend your foot up towards you
- Repeat 15 times.
You can add more sets or increase resistance as you get more comfortable with the exercise.
These will help you work on your mobility.
- Sit up straight on a chair
- Lift your affected foot around 10 centimetres off the floor
- Gently rotate your foot at the ankle, making circles as large as you feel comfortable.
- Do 15 rotations clockwise and then 15 anti-clockwise
As the name suggests, these target the calf muscles, which support the back of the ankle.
- Stand up straight with your toes pointing forward. If you feel you’ll have trouble keeping your balance, stand near a wall.
- Raise your heels off the ground as far as is comfortable.
- Lower your heels back toward the floor without letting them touch it
- Raise your heels back up
- Repeat 15 times.
You should use slow, controlled motions throughout. If this exercise becomes too easy, you can try increasing your reps or doing it on one leg at a time.
Eversions and inversions
These target the muscles on the ankle's lateral (outer) and medial (inner) sides.
- Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Your heels should be hanging, so do this exercise at the top of the stairs or on your bed.
- Raise your feet so they’re parallel to your body
- Without bending your knees or moving your legs, rotate your feet so the soles point toward each other.
- Return to the starting position
- Without bending your knees or moving your legs, rotate your feet so the soles point away from each other.
- Return to the starting position
- Repeat 30 times, 15 in each direction.
See more gentle ankle exercises: How to Restore Ankle Mobility After Injury
Ankle arthritis brace
A brace can also help manage symptoms and slow the rate of degeneration, provided it’s high-quality, fits right, and is suitable for your stage of the condition.
If you’re still in the early stages of ankle arthritis, a soft compression brace is the best option. Our MalleoTrain ankle brace, for instance, incorporates medical-grade compression knit and gel padding.
- The knit activates your muscles, helping them support and stabilise the joint. This type of ‘internal’ support is especially important since swelling and pain interrupt nerve signals and reduce proprioception (your ‘awareness’ of how you move and position your body).
- The knit also boosts blood circulation, reducing swelling and muscle stiffness.
- Last but not least, the gel pad will massage the joint as you move, relieving pain.
However, if your case is more advanced, you may need a semi-rigid brace like the MalleoLoc L3. Along with the compression knit and gel pads of the MalleoTrian, the ankle brace incorporates anatomically contoured splints and adjustable straps for added stability and support.
And don’t worry. We know arthritis is a long-term condition, so comfort and long-term wear are key. With our braces, you’ll have soft, breathable knit, form-fitted sizing, and you’ll be able to fit them into most shoes.
Research shows that a diet rich in vitamins K and D can improve cartilage health and muscle function, respectively. You can find these in foods like:
- Leafy greens like kale and spinach
- Orange juice
Additionally, one experimental study found that a Mediterranean diet reduced inflammation and improved joint function in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Sadly, the study didn’t include a list of dishes or ingredients participants ate. But, Mediterranean diets are often high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, and seafood and low in dairy and red meats.
Physiotherapy for arthritis
Always make an effort to see a physio. They’ll be able to pinpoint the severity of your condition and help mobilise your ankle. They can also prescribe an arthritis exercise program specific to your condition.
Seeing a physio will be vital for posttraumatic osteoarthritis. They can assess joint movement issues causing cartilage degeneration and make a treatment plan accordingly.
Tylenol is often the best medication for arthritis pain relief. You can also relieve pain through anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and topical creams like Voltaren. If your pain and swelling are severe, your doctor may also prescribe cortisone shots. However, keep in mind that you should always combine pain relief medication with active therapies like physiotherapy, bracing, and exercise. Because while tablets and topical creams may help relieve pain and swelling, they won’t do much for ankle mobility, strength, and stability.
To sum up
Ankle arthritis symptoms can range from irritating to outright debilitating. Fortunately, through steps like bracing, exercise, physiotherapy, and even diet changes, you can minimise the condition's effects and improve your quality of life.
If you require assistance selecting the right product for your needs or wearing the brace, call us on 1300 668 466 or contact us via live chat.
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