What is arthritis?

Arthritis is pain or inflammation in the joints. Arthritis can affect people of all ages but most commonly affects people over 65. There are more than 100 types of arthritis; however, the two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The different types of arthritis require different treatment regimes.

Causes of arthritis

The causes of arthritis vary depending upon the type of arthritis you have.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can occur when your body’s immune system attacks its tissues (the lining of the joint capsule). As rheumatoid arthritis progresses the disease can destroy bone and cartilage in the joint. Scientists are studying rheumatoid arthritis and have found genetic links that predispose a person to the disease.

Osteoarthritis can be caused by the wear and tear of everyday living on the joint’s cartilage in the ankle.  As the disease progresses the cartilage can be worn down so much that bone grinds against bone. Infections or injuries can compound the osteoarthritis and accelerate the disease progression.

Risk factors for arthritis

You are at an increased risk for arthritis if you are:
  • Over 65 years old
  • A woman 
  • Obese or overweight
  • Family history increases your risk of osteoarthritis

Symptoms of arthritis

Symptoms of mild arthritis include:
  • Ankle swelling
  • Ankle pain and stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion in the foot or ankle
  • In rheumatoid arthritis, a person may feel tired, fatigued, experience loss of appetite or even have a slight fever
Arthritis symptoms may appear and disappear in no regular pattern and can range from mild to severe.  Arthritis can progress rapidly or take years to progress. Symptoms of severe arthritis include:
  • Chronic pain
  • Difficulty performing daily activities including walking, taking the stairs, etc.
  • In the most severe cases, arthritis can affect other body parts such as the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and skin in addition to the joints

Diagnosis of arthritis

Arthritis is diagnosed in a physical exam by an primary care doctor or orthopedic specialist. Physicians will check your range of motion in your joints, fluid on the joints and may order x-rays, MRIs or CT scans to evaluate the inflammation in the bone and tissue or to rule out other diseases. To determine the exact kind of arthritis that a patient has a physician may draw blood to analyze the inflammation levels.

Treatments for arthritis

Treatment for arthritis depends on the severity of the case. For mild to moderate arthritis symptoms patients can try the following home treatments:
  • Medication such as pain relievers or anti-inflammation drugs
  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Physical activity
  • Increased support around the joint achieved by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint
  • Avoid excessive repetitive movements
If arthritis is more severe, patients need to work closely with their orthopedic physician to determine the best treatment plan for them. This may include:
  • Physical therapy & rehabilitation
  • Arthroscopic debridement
  • Arthrodesis / Surgical fusion
  • Arthroplasty / Joint replacement surgery
  • Navigation-guided total ankle replacement
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection

Recovery from arthritis

There is no cure for ankle arthritis but by working closely with your physician you can manage the symptoms of the disease. Physicians may recommend you keep the joints lose by staying active. For those who are obese or overweight, they may also recommend losing weight.

Find an orthopedic doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you