Ankle Arthritis Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Most cases of ankle arthritis can be treated at home.
- Can be treated with ibuprofen (Advil), RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and gentle exercises.
When you may need a provider
- Symptoms don’t improve with about 4 weeks of at-home treatments
- Severe pain and swelling
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When you may need a provider
You should consider seeing a healthcare provider for your ankle arthritis if after about 4 weeks of home care, your symptoms have not improved or the pain and swelling are severe. A provider can confirm that you have arthritis and check for other problems. They can prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medication (NSAIDs) and give you a referral for physical therapy or acupuncture.
Getting diagnosed for ankle arthritis
Your healthcare provider can diagnose ankle arthritis with a physical exam and taking X-rays. Or they may refer you to a foot and ankle specialist (usually an orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist) who can confirm that you have arthritis and determine how severe it is. Your doctor may also ask you to do a gait test to measure your stride and analyze the way you walk.
What to expect from your visit
- You may need a prescription NSAID like meloxicam (Mobic) or celecoxib (Celebrex) if OTC pain relievers aren’t helping enough.
- Cortisone injections in the ankle can help relieve pain and inflammation if medications don’t seem to be working or you can’t take NSAIDs for medical reasons.
- Your doctor may suggest physical therapy. A personalized physical therapy treatment plan helps reduce symptoms, strengthen the muscles supporting your ankle, and keeps the ankle joint from getting stiff. Therapy includes strength and flexibility exercises and cold and hot therapy.
- An alternative therapy, acupuncture, may be recommended. Acupuncture uses thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body and has been shown to help arthritis.
How to treat severe ankle arthritis
Though it’s not usual for ankle arthritis, surgery may be recommended if your arthritis doesn’t improve after several months of treating it or your pain severely limits your everyday activities.
Procedures include an ankle replacement—the arthritic parts of the joint are removed and replaced with metal and plastic parts—and ankle fusion, which uses plates and screws to align the joint.
Prescription ankle arthritis medications
- Meloxicam (Mobic)
- Celecoxib (Celebrex)
- Diclofenac (Voltaren)
- Nabumetone (Relafen)
- Cortisone injections
Types of ankle arthritis doctors
- A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
- Foot and ankle specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists, may be more knowledgeable about treatment options.
How to treat ankle arthritis at home
You can often treat symptoms of ankle arthritis, like pain and swelling, at home.
Arthritis treatment includes OTC anti-inflammatory pain medication (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). These can be taken orally, but there are also NSAIDs that you apply directly to your skin.
Other home remedies for ankle arthritis include RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to manage pain, stiffness, and swelling. While you rest, wrap your ankle with an ACE bandage, apply an ice pack, and keep your ankle elevated.
It may take 4-6 weeks to get relief.
Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to take supplements that may help your arthritis symptoms. These include glucosamine/chondroitin, turmeric, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).
Staying active is important when you have ankle arthritis because it can relieve symptoms and help you lose weight (if needed). Being overweight or obese can make arthritis worse.
See a healthcare provider for your ankle arthritis if at-home care doesn’t help your symptoms after about 4 weeks or if the pain and swelling are severe.
OTC treatments for ankle arthritis
- Pain relievers: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Topical pain relievers (to rub into the skin): diclofenac gel (Voltaren), CBD oil, arnica gel, Biofreeze
- Supplements: glucosamine/chondroitin, turmeric, MSM
How to treat arthritis in the ankle naturally
- Ice the ankle.
- Elevate the ankle.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Wear a brace for support and stability, which may make it easier to walk and stay active.
- Consider getting custom orthotics from a podiatrist. Orthotics can help correct your gait, which reduces pressure on the ankle.
- Do low-impact exercise like walking or swimming to help keep joints from getting too stiff and to maintain your strength and conditioning.
- Wear a supportive pair of shoes that has a stiff sole when you walk. Some people find shoes with a rocker bottom can reduce pressure on the ankle joint.