Foot Osteoarthritis Symptoms and Treatment

Osteoarthritis can affect joints in any part of the body, including the foot. Early diagnosis and treatment help people with foot osteoarthritis manage their symptoms.

A woman massaging her sore foot
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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. Cartilage, which serves as a protective cover and cushion for the ends of the bones that form a joint, gradually wears down. This is due to mechanical wear-and-tear on the joints of the foot.

Injury can also cause osteoarthritis to develop even years after the injury has occurred. Severe sprains or fractures can lead to osteoarthritis.

Abnormal foot structure and, consequently, abnormal foot mechanics can also cause osteoarthritis to develop. People with flat feet or high arches are at greater risk for developing foot osteoarthritis.


When diagnosing foot osteoarthritis, your healthcare provider must differentiate osteoarthritis from other types of arthritis. The practitioner will consider your medical history and your description of the symptoms. The healthcare provider will ask questions that will help to formulate your diagnosis, such as:

  • When did the pain start?
  • Is the pain continuous or does it come and go?
  • Have you injured the foot? If yes, when and how was it treated?
  • Are the symptoms worse at night or following weight-bearing activity (i.e., walking, running)?
  • Are the symptoms associated with one or both feet?

Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical examination. Your foot will be examined for swelling, bone spurs or other deformities, limited range of motion, and pain which occurs with movement. A gait analysis may be performed to evaluate your stride while walking and the strength of your feet.

Lastly, imaging studies of the bone structure of the affected foot will likely be performed. Evidence from x-rays, CT scans, or MRI may be used to help diagnose foot osteoarthritis.


The usual symptoms associated with foot osteoarthritis include:

  • pain and stiffness in the affected foot
  • swelling near the affected joint
  • limited range of motion and difficulty walking
  • bony protrusions (spurs)

There are 28 bones and more than 30 joints in the human foot. The foot joints that are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis include:

  • the ankle (tibiotalar joint)
  • the 3 joints of the hindfoot (talocalcaneal joint, talonavicular joint, calcaneocuboid joint)
  • the midfoot (metatarsocunieform joint)
  • the great toe (first metatarsophalangeal joint)


Treatment options for foot osteoarthritis are aimed at relieving symptoms. There are non-surgical and surgical options. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend one or more non-surgical options first. Non-surgical options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics (to relieve pain and swelling)
  • Shoe inserts (to add support or provide extra cushioning)
  • Orthotics (custom-made shoes or supports)
  • Braces (to restrict motion or prevent more deformity)
  • Physical therapy or exercise (to improve range of motion and stability)
  • Steroid injections (to deliver anti-inflammatory medication to the joint directly)
  • Dietary supplements

If non-surgical options are ineffective, your healthcare provider may suggest surgery. Depending on the joint involved, arthroscopy, arthrodesis (fusion), or arthroplasty (joint replacement) may be considered. The goal of foot surgery is to relieve pain and restore function.

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5 Sources
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.
  1. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle.

  2. Arthritis Foundation. What is osteoarthritis?

  3. Arthritis Foundation. Sources of arthritis pain.

  4. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Arthritis of the foot and ankle.

  5. Stephens, MM, Chracchiolo, A, Wulker, N. An Atlas of Foot and Ankle Surgery. Milton Park, Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis; 1998.

Additional Reading
  • Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  • Osteoarthritis of the Foot and Ankle. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.