Osteoarthritis Ankle: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Osteoarthritis of the Ankle: What You Need to Know

Osteoarthritis of the ankle is, like other forms of osteoarthritis, a condition that gets worse over time. Ankle osteoarthritis can occur in any of the three bones that make up the ankle joint: the lower end of the tibia (shinbone), the fibula (small bone of the lower leg), and the talus (the weight-bearing bone that fits into the socket formed by the tibia and fibula).

This article will go over what you should know about ankle osteoarthritis, including the symptoms of ankle osteoarthritis, how osteoarthritis in the ankle is diagnosed, and treatment for ankle osteoarthritis.

Applying cream to ankle
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Symptoms of Ankle Osteoarthritis

Pain is the primary symptom of osteoarthritis in the ankle joint. Initially, the pain is present with movement or activity (walking, climbing stairs, etc.) As osteoarthritis progresses, pain is felt even during inactivity or rest.

Other symptoms of ankle osteoarthritis include:

Ankle osteoarthritis symptoms can cause difficulty walking, especially with weight-bearing, which may cause slips and falls.

Causes of Ankle Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. With this type of arthritis, cartilage—a tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of the bones forming a joint—wears away gradually.

Most cases of ankle osteoarthritis are related to a previous ankle injury. The injury may have occurred years before there is evidence of osteoarthritis in the ankle. Injury can damage the cartilage directly or alter the mechanics of the ankle joint (how the joint works).

Besides injury, the following risk factors can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in your ankle or in any other joint:

Can Other Forms of Arthritis Affect the Ankle?

Osteoarthritis of the ankle is common but it's not the only kind of arthritis that can affect the bones of the feet and ankles. Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, axial spondyloarthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis, may also affect the ankle.

Injuries can also lead to osteoarthritis of the ankle. If a person hurts their ankle—for example, a break or bad sprain—they can also develop post-traumatic arthritis.

How Ankle Osteoarthritis Is Diagnosed

Diagnosis of ankle osteoarthritis usually begins with the patient's medical history. The patient should make their doctor aware of any past ankle injuries and if there is a family history of osteoarthritis.

A physical examination can reveal an abnormal range of motion in the ankle joint, as well as pain, swelling, or tenderness around the ankle joint. Crepitus (a grinding or popping sound as the joint is moved) suggests the ends of the bones that form the joint are rubbing against each other.

During the physical examination, an assessment of bone alignment while walking (gait analysis) may be performed. The analysis also measures the patient's stride and tests the strength of the ankle and foot.

X-rays help determine the severity of ankle damage and can help doctors estimate the amount of cartilage that remains. X-rays or other imaging studies can also detect joint space narrowing and misshapen joints. CT scans or MRIs are used to evaluate ankle joint damage, as well.

Treating Ankle Osteoarthritis

Treatment for ankle osteoarthritis is usually aimed at controlling pain and limiting motion that provokes the pain. Nonsurgical treatments for ankle osteoarthritis are tried first. If unsuccessful, surgical options for ankle osteoarthritis can be considered.

Nonsurgical treatment options include:

Surgical options for ankle osteoarthritis include:


Ankle osteoarthritis can occur in any of the three bones in the ankle joint. As with other types of osteoarthritis, it is a condition that can cause pain that gets worse over time.

That said, as long as it is correctly diagnosed, ankle osteoarthritis can be treated. If the arthritis is mild, using over-the-counter pain relievers and making lifestyle changes like getting exercise may be enough to manage it. If the damage to the joint is severe, surgery might be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the ankle?

    Ankle osteoarthritis usually causes pain. You may also feel that the ankle joint is stiff or not as flexible as it used to be.

  • What can be done for osteoarthritis of the ankle?

    There are surgical and non-surgical treatments for ankle osteoarthritis. You can start with lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, physical therapy, and steroid injections. If these don't help, you can have surgery on your ankle joint.

  • Can ankle osteoarthritis be cured?

    There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, many of the treatments for ankle osteoarthritis can help you stay moving and relieve pain.

  • Is walking good for osteoarthritis of the ankle?

    Walking can be helpful for some people with arthritis because it doesn't stress your joints too much and helps keep them moving. Walking also helps keep your bones strong and may help you maintain your weight, which will also have a positive effect on your overall well-being if you have arthritis. You can talk to your provider about whether a walking routine is right for you.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."