A Patient’s Guide to How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Ankle

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Arthritis is an inflammation of joints. It can cause pain, stiffness, and controlled movements. There are typically 100 types of arthritis that affect small joints like an ankle. Thus, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the ankle joints and along with swelling and pain, can also cause an impediment to walk.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Ankle

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Some important facts about rheumatoid arthritis are:

  1. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease. 
  2. It causes pain, inflammation, and swelling around the joints which it affects.
  3. Since it is an autoimmune disease, one cannot exactly identify what caused the diseased condition.
  4. Food items like fat and oils, dairy products, inflammatory food items, etc. can stimulate the immune system and trigger inflammation at the joint, worsening the pain.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Ankle?

  1. Ankles bear the weight of the whole body. 
  2. The ankle joint connects the leg bones to the bones of the foot. 
  3. It is made up of two small joints. They give the hinge-like support for foot movements.
  4. Many patients experience severe pain on their ankles during morning and night in a cyclic pattern.
  5. RA causes chronic inflammation of the ankle joint. 
  6. There can be soreness initially and later it can cause permanent disfigurement of the structure and shape of the ankle joint.
  7. RA also affects the cartilage that protects the bones from rubbing against each other. The cartilage breaks over time and this will expose the bones to each other and cause friction and damage.
  8. RA generally appears on both feet.

Symptoms

In rheumatoid arthritis, the ankle joint looks swollen, painful, and stiff. Initially, the pain is intermittent and one feels it only when they are climbing uphill. However, over time, it increases and restricts the ankle movement. Once the damage to tissues and joints becomes severe, the ankle becomes fused and this impacts one’s gait. The stiff foot cannot flexibly move around. One might also experience calluses, bunions, nodules, and corns in the foot during RA.

Some might experience additional symptoms like:

  1. Pain in the toes
  2. Pain in the front ball of the foot
  3. Pain in the heel of the foot near the Achilles tendon
  4. Pain in the middle of the foot and the bone below it
  5. Fatigue 
  6. Low-grade fever
  7. Muscle weakness

Diagnosis

Orthopedic doctors can identify rheumatoid arthritis with a physical examination. Along with weakness and tenderness around the joint, inflammation examination and mobility tests are also performed to confirm RA. X-rays, ultrasound, and MRI scans can also be used to assess the grade of RA the patient is enduring.

Treatment

Treating an autoimmune disease is difficult as the exact cause of the same is unknown. Common treatment methods are:

  1. Exercises to strengthen ankle joints
  2. Anti-inflammatory and pain medicines
  3. Regulated diet
  4. Quitting smoking

Exercises strengthen the foot and ankle muscles and relieve pressure on the joints. Also, lifestyle changes like weight reduction can help to reduce discomfort. Surgery should be chosen as an option when RA is advanced and pain is chronic. Ankle replacement surgery is performed if bone fusion is not successful.

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