Some simple lifestyle changes, such as changing footwear and exercise habits, can make a big difference in reducing ankle pain and slowing down the progression of ankle arthritis.

The sooner treatment begins, the better the odds of conserving the ankle’s stability and range of motion for years—or even a lifetime—and avoiding the possible need for surgery.

See What Is Ankle Osteoarthritis?

Activity Modification

Certain types of activities and exercise will aggravate the ankle joint. Avoid these activities and identify alternatives. For example, jogging may be replaced with cycling or swimming, which exerts less force on the ankle joint.

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While painful ankle osteoarthritis may discourage someone from being physically active, less physical activity is not advisable. In fact, inactivity is harmful, and often leads to other health problems. A health care provider can work with an individual patient to identify strategies that allow him or her to perform daily activities without triggering pain.

See Ways to Get Exercise When You Have Arthritis

Supportive Footwear

Sturdy, low-heeled shoes can provide good support and discourage ankle “rolling” that causes a foot to turn in or out. High heels and flip-flops should be avoided. High-top shoes and boots may help stabilize the ankle.

Weight Loss

A diet to maintain healthy weight may significantly reduce ankle osteoarthritis pain.1 Every extra pound on the body can translate into 5 extra pounds of pressure exerted on the ankle.2,3 For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight will significantly reduce pressure and strain on the ankle joint, potentially alleviating painful symptoms and slowing the progression of ankle osteoarthritis.

See Dietary Supplements for Treating Arthritis

Periodic Rest

Discomfort may be felt as stiff joints loosen up in the morning or at the beginning of exercise. However, when people feel bone-on-bone pain or searing pain, they should not try to “work through the pain.” Moderate to serious ankle pain is a signal that the joint needs a rest. If pain is not significantly relieved after 2 or 3 days of rest, then medical attention should be sought.

Warm or Cold Compress

Using a warming pad or whirlpool for a few minutes can loosen a stiff ankle joint, making activity easier. Icing the ankle joint for 15 or 20 minutes after activity can decrease swelling and provide some immediate pain relief. Heating or icing a joint may improve symptoms temporarily: it does not alleviate the underlying causes of ankle pain and will not improve long-term joint function by itself.

See When and Why to Apply Heat to an Arthritic Joint

See When and Why to Apply Cold to an Arthritic Joint

Caution should be used. Exposure to hot or cold temperatures, particularly for extended periods of time, can damage to the skin.

See Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint

Coping Techniques

Some patients employ techniques such as relaxation (e.g., relaxation tapes, meditation), visual imagery, biofeedback, or hypnosis. When combined with a positive attitude that focuses on what activities are possible, these techniques can have a significant impact in moderating the ankle pain.

Supplements and Cannabidiol (CBD)

Supplements, such as curcumin, may help reduce ankle arthritis symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD)—either oral or topical salves—may also provide some pain relief. Research regarding these products and ankle arthritis is scarce. Most research focuses on knee arthritis or osteoarthritis in general.

See Turmeric and Curcumin for Arthritis

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Supplements and CBD products are not well-regulated.People are advised to consult with their health care provider and read product labels carefully.

When lifestyle changes are not enough to treat ankle osteoarthritis symptoms, people should contact their doctor and consider medical treatments.

References

  • 1.Khlopas H, Khlopas A, Samuel LT, Ohliger E, Sultan AA, Chughtai M, Mont MA. Current Concepts in Osteoarthritis of the Ankle: Review. Surg Technol Int. 2019 Jun 25;35. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 31237341.
  • 2.Stauffer RN, Chao EY, Brewster RC. Force and motion analysis of the normal, diseased, and prosthetic ankle joint. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1977;(127):189-96. PubMed PMID: 912978.
  • 3.Messier SP, Gutekunst DJ, Davis C, et al. Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in over- weight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum 2005;52: 2026–32.
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