Ankle Arthritis and Ankle Replacement

Dr. A. Brian Thomson

Ankle arthritis is a degenerative joint process involving the ankle joint that leads to stiffness and pain with exercise and activities of daily life. It can be caused by prior trauma or injury, leg deformity, chronic instability, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Arthritis affects millions of US citizens every year. Although not as common, ankle arthritis has been shown to be just as debilitating as hip or knee arthritis1.

There are several conservative options for treating ankle arthritis. These options include exercise, braces, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroid injections to name a few. There are surgical options for patients who have tried different treatment options, but still have pain that limits their daily activities, sports, or quality of life.

Mild ankle arthritis can sometimes be treated surgically with ankle arthroscopy with debridement of inflammatory joint tissue or scar, coupled with removing bone spurs that may be blocking joint motion. For patients with more advanced ankle arthritis, an ankle fusion has traditionally been recommended. An ankle fusion can give excellent pain relief and improve a patient’s function. However, it does create stiffness in the joint which can be somewhat limiting for certain activities. This increased stiffness can also potentially lead to degenerative changes or arthritis in other joints of the foot near the ankle joint.

Ankle arthroplasty, or total ankle replacement, is another alternative for patients with moderate to severe ankle arthritis. Refinements in the technique of this surgery and improvements in the implants have led to greater success with ankle replacement and increased use of this procedure in the U.S. Hip and knee replacement has become the gold standard for the surgical treatment of hip and knee arthritis. Given the improved outcomes with ankle replacement, more patients are seeking out ankle replacement.

If you are suffering from chronic ankle pain, you can make an appointment to be evaluated by our foot and ankle specialists, Dr. Jeffrey Willers and Dr. A. Brian Thomson.

We will be glad to evaluate you and discuss the treatment options available to you for your ankle pain. Treatment recommendations are tailored to each patient’s specific condition and functional concerns.


Comparison of health-related quality of life between pateints with end-stage ankle and hip arthrosis. Glazebrook, M et al. JBJS 2008 Mar; 90(3) 499-505


Ankle Arthritis by footEducation
Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle by OrthoInfo

3 Signs You Need a Joint Replacement

Warning signs that you need a joint replacement aren’t exactly clear-cut. Unlike a break or muscle tear, conditions that lead to a joint replacement often involve a gradual lifestyle change where the cartilage in your joints break down. It could be years before you really start to feel the impact of your condition.

It may be difficult to determine whether a joint replacement is right for you. If you are experiencing any of the following signs, you should consider speaking with your doctor about this procedure:

1. Joint Pain Has Grown Increasingly Worse Over the Years

If you are experiencing overwhelming joint pain that has worsened in recent years, it could be a sign that you need a joint replacement. Simple movements getting in and out of a car, going up and down stairs, bending over, rising from a seated position, or even getting out of bed might be harder than they used to be.
Unfortunately, without proper treatment, joint pain will continue to worsen and negatively impact your lifestyle. Joint replacement may or may not be your best option, but it’s best to consult your doctor about options to decrease your pain.

2. Other Treatments Aren’t Relieving Joint Pain

If you’re considering a joint replacement, you’re likely already in contact with your doctor about other treatments options. There are several methods for treating joint pain including diet, exercise, physical therapy, injections, and medication.

While non-surgical treatment works for some, you may not have seen the results you were hoping for from these options. You may find temporary relief only for your joint pain to revisit later. If you are still experiencing pain following non-surgical treatment, your doctor may suggest surgery.

3. Your Mental Health Is Affected by Joint Pain

Joint pain can affect more than just your physical wellbeing. Physical pain can be exhaustive and ignoring it can be a risk to your mental health. If your joint pain is preventing you from getting enough sleep or doing the activities you love, a joint replacement could lead to a healthier mental state.

If you are experiencing serious joint pain that has gotten worse over the years and it is taking a toll on your mental health, ask your doctor about joint replacement. A joint replacement may be your best option for easing joint pain when other treatment won’t work. Check to see if joint replacement is right for you.

The above signs are only a few of many that you should seek treatment for your joint pain. If you are experiencing severe pain, speak to your doctor immediately.