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Foot and Ankle Surgery for Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis

August 27, 2021

woman rubbing ankle because of discomfort
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects joints throughout the body. According to a study published by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, more than 90 of rheumatoid arthritis patients report foot pain as a result of the condition. It makes some patients wonder if they need foot and ankle surgery.

Orthopedic Specialists of Austin helps patients throughout Austin, TX, relieve discomfort from rheumatoid arthritis. Foot and ankle surgery can help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by relieving chronic foot pain and improving the ability to walk and stand.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Feet and Ankles

The main symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation. It makes joints painful, swollen, and stiff. In the early stages, the signs of rheumatoid arthritis may be infrequent and mild. For instance, people may feel discomfort in their ankles or feet when walking up a hill.

Over time, worsening inflammation can damage joints and surrounding tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to the destruction of the ankles in these ways:

  • Changes of shape in the joints
  • Breakdown of ankle cartilage and surrounding tissues
  • Restrictions in walking and moving
  • Instability
  • Stiffness
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Slow or restricted movement

Rheumatoid arthritis in the ankle can also cause symptoms in the feet. Commonly affected areas include the:

  • Heels (nodules can appear in the Achilles tendon)
  • Middle of the arch (if the tendons and ligaments are too relaxed, the feet can look flat)
  • Ball of the foot
  • Toes

Surgery for Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Feet and Ankles

Doctors may suggest surgery when conservative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (anti-inflammatory diets, lifestyle changes, and medication) are ineffective.

At our Austin, TX, orthopedic surgery office, we offer two treatments to eliminate or significantly reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the ankles and feet:

1. Arthroscopy

Bone spurs can develop in arthritic joints when the cartilage crumbles and bone scrapes against bone. Without intervention, the friction prompts more damage, and the new bone spurs rub against soft tissues, causing even more pain.

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery. The doctor inserts a tiny camera through a small incision, to examine the ankle joint and surrounding tissue damage. Then, with a microtool introduced to the area through another tiny incision, the surgeon will remove small bone spurs, fragments of cartilage, and other problematic tissues.

Tiny sutures close the incisions, and the area will be dressed. Expect to be down for a few days, as you elevate and rest the ankle. You may use crutches afterward, and most patients fully recover in four to six weeks.

2. Ankle Joint Replacement

When ankles are severely injured by arthritis, ankle joint replacement can reduce pain and restore mobility. The surgeon will remove the damaged portions of the adjacent bones of the joint, then cement metal joint surfaces into the remaining bone. The doctor may insert a plastic device between the new metal joint spaces to improve ease of motion in the joint.

If advanced rheumatoid arthritis has significantly damaged the ankle, fusion may be the best treatment option.

Contact Us

Foot and ankle surgeries reduce or eliminate pain and restore range of motion. Don't let rheumatoid arthritis steal your mobility. Call (512) 476-2830 or message us online to schedule your surgical consultation at Orthopedic Specialists of Austin.