Ankle pain and stiffness are classic signs of ankle osteoarthritis. Many people initially dismiss these symptoms, attributing them to the results of aging or an old injury "acting up." Left untreated, however, symptoms can gradually worsen and start to interfere with everyday activities.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Ankle Osteoarthritis

Below is a list of typical symptoms of ankle osteoarthritis.

    Ankle pain

    Patients may experience pain in the lower shin (tibia), back of the foot, or middle of the foot. The pain may be aching and dull or sharp and intense. The pain may come and go or there may be a chronic low level of pain with intermittent flare-ups of more intense pain. In the early stages, many patients report experiencing pain only after certain activities that place strain on the ankle joint, such as jogging or extended walking. Typically, this ankle pain can be lessened with rest, elevating the foot, and an ice compress.

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    Ankle stiffness

    Swelling and bone friction make the ankle stiff and less flexible. The ankle’s range of motion can become more limited, making it difficult to point and flex the toes.

    Inactivity makes it worse

    Ankles can become stiff after prolonged inactivity. People with ankle osteoarthritis may find that stiffness and pain are most noticeable when they try to get out of bed in the morning or out of a chair after a long period of sitting.

    Ankle swelling

    When ankle cartilage wears away, the fibula, tibia and talus bones can rub together, resulting in irritation and swelling of the ankle.

    Ankle popping or crunching

    Sensing a crunching or hearing a popping or squeaking sound when pointing or flexing the toes is a sign that that cartilage has worn away and is not protecting the bones from friction. The medical term for this symptom is "crepitus."

    Ankle instability

    Walking may occasionally cause the ankle to lock or buckle, potentially causing the ankle to turn out or in. (These episodes can be reduced or eliminated by wearing supportive footwear with low heels.)

    Gait is affected

    Advanced osteoarthritis can cause the ankle cartilage to deteriorate unevenly. The bones and joint material can shift in an effort to compensate for the uneven deterioration. This can affect the way a person walks and eventually even cause arthritis in the knee and hip joints.

In most but not all cases, the symptoms of ankle osteoarthritis come and go, becoming worse and more frequent over months or years. Left untreated, ankle arthritis has the potential to severely impede mobility.

On the other hand, getting treatment in the early stages of arthritis can significantly slow the progression of symptoms.