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Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of your joints. It can cause pain and stiffness in any joint in the body and is common in the small joints of the foot and ankle.
There are more than 100 forms of arthritis, many of which affect the foot and ankle. All types can make it difficult to walk and perform activities you enjoy.
Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are many treatment options available to slow the progress of the disease and relieve symptoms. With proper treatment, many people with arthritis can manage their pain, remain active, and lead fulfilling lives.
During standing, walking, and running, the foot and ankle provide support, shock absorption, balance, and several other functions that are essential for motion. Three bones make up the ankle joint, primarily enabling up and down movement. There are 28 bones in the foot, and more than 30 joints that allow for a wide range of movement.
In many of these joints, the ends of the bones are covered with articular cartilage, which is a slippery substance that helps the bones glide smoothly over each other during movement. Joints are surrounded by a thin lining called synovium. The synovium produces a fluid that lubricates the cartilage and reduces friction.
Tough bands of tissue, called ligaments, connect the bones and keep the joints in place. Muscles and tendons also support the joints and provide the strength to make them move.
The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on which joint is affected. In many cases, an arthritic joint will be painful and inflamed. Generally, the pain develops gradually over time, although sudden onset is also possible. There can be other symptoms as well, including:
Dr. McCool will discuss your overall health and medical history, as well as ask about any medications you may be taking. He will examine your foot and ankle for tenderness and swelling, as well as the following questions to understand more about your symptoms:
Dr. McCool will also ask if you have had any injury to your foot or ankle in the past. If so, he will discuss your injury, including when it occurred and how it was treated.
He will also examine your shoes to determine if there is any abnormal or uneven wear to ensure they are providing sufficient support for your foot and ankle.
During your physical examination, Dr. McCool will closely observer your gait (the way you walk). Pain and joint stiffness will change the way you walk. For example, if you are limping, the way you limp can tell your doctor a lot about the severity and location of your arthritis.
During the gait analysis, Dr. McCool will assess how the bones in your leg and foot line up when you walk, measure your stride, and test the strength of your ankles and feet.
X-rays. These imaging tests provide detailed pictures of dense structures such as bone. An x-ray of an arthritic foot may show narrowing of the joint space between bones (an indication of cartilage loss), changes in the bone (such as fractures), or the formation of bone spurs.
Weight-bearing x-rays are taken while you stand. They are the most valuable additional test in diagnosing the severity of arthritis and noting any joint deformity associated with it. In arthritic conditions, if x-rays are taken without standing, it is difficult to assess how much arthritis is present, where it is located in the joint, and how much deformity is present. So, it is very important that, when possible, x-rays are taken standing.
In some cases, a bone scan, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be needed to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissues.
Dr. McCool may also recommend blood tests to determine which type of arthritis you have. With some types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, blood tests are important for an accurate diagnosis.
Dr. McCool may refer you to a rheumatologist if he suspects rheumatoid arthritis. Although your symptoms and the results from a physical examination and tests may be consistent with rheumatoid arthritis, a rheumatologist will be able to determine the specific diagnosis. There are other less common types of inflammatory arthritis that will be considered.
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