Wright Medical Group

Why Ankle Pain?

Knowledge: The First Step in Eliminating Ankle Pain

When chronic, severe ankle arthritis pain strikes, it can affect every aspect of life — work, play, travel, and time with friends and family. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are treatments that can relieve chronic, severe ankle arthritis pain and help you get back to the activities you love. Here’s what you should know:

The Anatomy of the Ankle

The human ankle is a joint that acts much like a hinge. The joint is formed by the union of three bones. The lower end of the tibia, often called the shinbone, and the fibula, the small bone of the lower leg, create a socket. The foot bone called the talus fits inside the socket. The bottom of the talus sits on the heel bone, called the calcaneus.

A healthy ankle is a very flexible, free-moving joint. It can move up and down, side to side, and twist. To function fully, the ankle joint depends on the successful coordination of many interrelated parts. These include bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and nerves.

The reason for chronic, severe ankle arthritis pain

In a healthy joint, cartilage cushions and protects the bones that make up the ankle and absorbs the shock of daily wear. Cartilage can break down due to age, wear, disease or injury. The body cannot reverse cartilage loss. When the cartilage loss becomes severe, the bones in the joint grind against each other. This bone-on-bone contact causes pain and limits activity. Your physician may refer to this as “end-stage ankle arthritis pain.”

Symptoms of end-stage ankle arthritis

If you have end-stage ankle arthritis, you may experience chronic:

  • Tenderness or pain
  • Reduced ability to move, walk, or bear weight
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Swelling in the joint

Underlying causes of end-stage ankle arthritis

The most common causes of end-stage ankle arthritis are:

  • Post-traumatic arthritis is the most common form of osteoarthritis (OA) that is caused by a previous injury or other form of trauma to a joint, such as the ankle joint.  An injury to the ankle which leads to post-traumatic arthritis can also be known as “end-stage arthritis”.
  • Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disorder. It’s also called “degenerative arthritis.” OA is the result of aging and joint wear. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 30 million Americans have OA.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is less common. It occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the joint’s soft tissue. This produces inflammation, swelling, and pain.

In the case of post-traumatic arthritis, an ankle injury causes trauma to the joint. The trauma could be a single damaging event such as an accident. Or it could be a series of smaller, repeated injuries such as the strains and sprains endured over years of running. The injuries damage the cartilage and/or the bone, changing the mechanics of the joint and making it wear out more quickly. The time between the original trauma and the onset of post-traumatic arthritis may span months or years. For example, an ankle sprain during childhood or adolescence that you thought was healed may develop into post-traumatic arthritis years later.