Osteoarthritis or arthritis of the foot develops with aging and is a result of wear-and-tear on the joint.  As with any joint in the body, cartilage at the end of bones cushions the joint from the bones’ motion. Over time, the cartilage becomes worn and loses its protective function. For some people, joints may become damaged to the point where they are swollen, inflamed and painful to move.

Genetics can play a role in who develops foot or ankle arthritis. However, it can develop in a joint that has had an injury, even if it seemed to heal properly. A severe sprain, torn ligament or broken bone may all contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, long after the initial injury.


The most common symptoms of arthritis in the foot and ankle include pain, stiffness, swelling and a loss of mobility. Walking and climbing stairs may become difficult due to soreness.

Your foot and ankle orthopedist will examine the affected joint.  He or she will order X-rays to look for changes in the spacing between bones. Your physician may also want to review an MRI, which can show varying degrees of cartilage damage.


You can take medications to treat arthritis symptoms, however, they cannot restore joint cartilage or reverse damage. Anti-inflammatory medications are commonly used to reduce pain and swelling. If anti-inflammatory medications do not control pain, steroidal injections into the joint are often effective. Sometimes, physicians prescribe over-the counter or custom-made orthotic inserts for your shoes.

Physical therapy and home exercise programs may also provide relief. For patients who are overweight, weight loss can be very beneficial. Painful feet will be less sensitive if they have less weight to bear. Even moderate weight loss shows to make a difference.

If conservative treatments are unsuccessful and you have great difficulty with simple activities such as walking or climbing stairs, your orthopedist may recommend surgery. Fortunately there are a number of surgical options available, including synthetic cartilage for arthritis of the big toe.  The type of surgery depends on the type and location of the arthritis.