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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ndidi Ufondu, DPM

How Physical Therapy Can Help Patients with Arthritis in the Foot and Ankle



Arthritis is a common condition that affects many joints in the body, including the foot and ankle. Arthritis can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility in the affected joints. There are different types of arthritis that can affect the foot and ankle, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and psoriatic arthritis. The treatment of foot and ankle arthritis depends on the type, severity, and location of the arthritis, as well as the patient's goals and preferences.



One of the treatments that can help patients with foot and ankle arthritis is physical therapy. Physical therapy is a form of rehabilitation that uses movement, exercise, manual therapy, and education to improve the function and quality of life of patients with various conditions. Physical therapy can help patients with foot and ankle arthritis in several ways, such as:


  • Improving the range of motion of the foot and ankle joints. Physical therapists can teach patients how to perform gentle stretching exercises to increase the flexibility of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the foot and ankle joints. This can help reduce stiffness and improve joint mobility.

  • Strengthening the muscles that support the foot and ankle joints. Physical therapists can prescribe strengthening exercises to improve the stability and endurance of the muscles that control the movements of the foot and ankle. This can help reduce pain and prevent further joint damage.

  • Reducing pain and inflammation. Physical therapists can use various modalities, such as ice, heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or massage, to decrease pain and inflammation in the foot and ankle joints. They can also advise patients on how to use pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, or steroid injections safely and effectively.

  • Improving balance and coordination. Physical therapists can help patients improve their balance and coordination by teaching them how to perform functional activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, or standing on one leg. They can also recommend assistive devices, such as braces, orthotics, or canes, to improve stability and reduce stress on the foot and ankle joints.

  • Educating patients on how to manage their condition. Physical therapists can provide patients with information on the causes, symptoms, and treatments of foot and ankle arthritis. They can also teach patients how to modify their lifestyle, such as losing weight, wearing comfortable shoes, avoiding high-impact activities, or resting when needed.


Key Takeaways

  • Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, swelling, and reduced mobility.

  • Foot and ankle arthritis can affect different joints in the foot and ankle region, such as the ankle joint, the midfoot joints, or the big toe joint.

  • Physical therapy is a treatment option that can help patients with foot and ankle arthritis improve their function and quality of life.

  • Physical therapy can help patients with foot and ankle arthritis by improving their range of motion, strength, pain relief, balance, coordination, and education.


FAQs


Q: How do I know if I have foot and ankle arthritis?

A: The symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis may vary depending on the type and location of the arthritis. However, some common signs include:


  1. Pain or tenderness in one or more joints in the foot or ankle

  2. Stiffness or difficulty moving the foot or ankle

  3. Swelling or warmth in or around the joint

  4. Changes in the shape or appearance of the foot or ankle

  5. Difficulty walking or performing daily activities

If you have any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.


Q: How long does physical therapy for foot and ankle arthritis last?

A: The duration of physical therapy for foot and ankle arthritis depends on several factors, such as:

  • The type, severity, and location of your arthritis

  • Your goals and expectations

  • Your response to treatment

  • Your compliance with home exercises

Generally speaking, physical therapy for foot and ankle arthritis may last from a few weeks to several months. Your physical therapist will monitor your progress and adjust your treatment plan accordingly.


Q: What are some examples of exercises for foot and ankle arthritis?

A: Some examples of exercises for foot and ankle arthritis are:



  • Ankle pumps: Sit in a chair and lift your foot slightly off the ground. Point your toes away from your ankle and hold for 5–10 seconds. Pull your toes toward your ankle and hold for another 5–10 seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.


  • Towel stretch: Sit on the floor or a chair with your legs straight in front of you. Loop a towel around your toes and gently pull them toward you until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold for 15–30 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.


BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Heel raises: Stand behind a chair and hold on to it for balance. Lift your heels off the ground and stand on your toes. Hold for 5 seconds. Lower your heels slowly. Repeat 10 times.



  • Toe raises: Stand behind a chair and hold on to it for balance. Lift your toes off the ground and stand on your heels. Hold for 5 seconds. Lower your toes slowly. Repeat 10 times.


  • Balance exercises: Stand on one leg and try to maintain your balance for 10 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. You can make this exercise more challenging by closing your eyes, moving your arms, or standing on a soft surface.


You should always consult your physical therapist before starting any exercise program for your foot and ankle arthritis. They will design a personalized exercise plan that suits your needs and abilities.

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