Osteoarthritis in Feet: Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Osteoarthritis is due to gradual wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the joints. When this cartilage breaks down, it can cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation as the bones rub against each other.

The feet are highly susceptible to osteoarthritis as they sustain the body’s weight and are constantly subjected to extreme pressure. As a result, the cartilage in the joints of the feet, including the ankle, toes, and mid foot, breaks down, causing discomfort and pain. Additionally, foot osteoarthritis can cause bone spurs, worsening foot pain and discomfort.

That said, diagnosing osteoarthritis in feet as soon as possible is essential to avoid long-term complications. So, let’s discuss the steps to diagnosing osteoarthritis in feet in detail below.

Diagnosis of Osteoarthritis in Feet

A healthcare professional performs the diagnosis of osteoarthritis in feet through a physical examination and imaging tests. During the physical exam, the doctor checks for tenderness, swelling, redness, and flexibility in the affected joint.

Imaging studies, such as X-rays and MRIs, are performed to identify joint abnormalities and detect cartilage loss. X-rays can reveal a narrowing of the space between the bones in the joint and bone spurs around the joint. 

CT and MRI scans can also help determine the bone condition and the surrounding tissues. It can provide detailed images of the soft tissues in the joint, such as the cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Conservative Treatment Options

  • Activity Modification and Rest

Activity modification involves avoiding high-impact activities and repetitive motions, including running, jumping, and tennis, and instead focusing on stretching, range-of-motion exercises, and gradual progressive strength training. 

Rest is also essential to allow the feet to recover and reduce inflammation. Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, or water can also help improve mood and control weight. Additionally, intra-articular injections and braces/orthotics may reduce pain and improve mobility.

  • Physical Therapy and Exercises

Physical therapy and exercises can help people with osteoarthritis in their feet by strengthening the muscles around the joints, increasing energy, improving balance, and improving mood. For example, range of motion exercises can help maintain and improve the flexibility of the joints, while strengthening exercises can help support the bones. 

Stretching exercises can also help increase the range of motion in the feet and reduce osteoarthritis foot pain. Additionally, aerobic exercises can help burn calories and reduce the load on the joints.

  • Assistive Devices

One of the most common assistive devices for osteoarthritis in feet is shoe inserts, also known as orthotics. These are custom-designed foot supports placed inside shoes to provide additional cushioning, support, and stability to the feet. They help redistribute pressure on the joints and reduce the impact of walking on the feet, which can alleviate pain and discomfort.

Another type of assistive device for osteoarthritis in feet is braces. These external supports are worn around the foot and ankle to provide additional stability and support. They can help reduce the load on the affected joints and prevent them from moving in ways that can worsen the condition. Other assistive devices for osteoarthritis in feet include

  1. Walking aids, such as canes or crutches, which can help reduce the weight on the affected joints and improve balance and stability.
  2. Footwear modifications, such as shoes with a wider toe box or a rocker sole, can help reduce pressure on the joints and improve gait.
  3. Compression stockings reduce swelling and improve circulation in the feet.
  • Medications

NSAIDs can reduce osteoarthritis foot pain and inflammation to make physical activity more comfortable. Aspirin is another OTC NSAID that can help treat symptoms. Corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, can also help reduce pain and inflammation. Topical preparations, such as Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel and Pennsaid, can relieve osteoarthritis foot pain.

Invasive Treatment Options

  • Injections

Corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid injections can help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis in the feet. The former reduces inflammation and osteoarthritis foot pain and can temporarily relieve pain for up to 8 weeks. 

While the latter is more expensive, they can help lubricate the joint and reduce osteoarthritis foot pain, allowing for improved joint movement. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is also commonly used to help relieve mild to moderate pain associated with osteoarthritis.

  • Surgery

Surgery can be used to help treat osteoarthritis in the feet. Joint replacement, also known as arthroplasty, is a procedure in which a damaged joint is replaced with an artificial implant. 

Joint fusion surgery, or arthrodesis, is a procedure in which two bones are fused to reduce osteoarthritis foot pain and improve stability. This procedure is often used when joint replacement is not an option.

Ankle replacement surgery is when a damaged ankle joint is replaced with an artificial implant. This procedure can help reduce the chance of developing adjacent joint arthritis. If the implant fails, it can be exchanged for a new implant or removed, and the joint can be fused.

Finally, surgery can fuse two or more bones in the toe or foot. This procedure involves binding the bones of the arthritic joint together using small metal screws and metal plates.

Integrative Treatment Options

  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a process that requires inserting thin needles into specific regions of the body. The needles are typically left in place for 15-30 minutes, when the individual may experience a tingling sensation or mild discomfort.

Acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural healing mechanisms, including releasing endorphins (natural painkillers) and anti-inflammatory chemicals. The needles are thought to stimulate the nerves, muscles, and connective tissue, helping to improve circulation and reduce inflammation in the affected joints.

  • Massage Therapy

It involves applying pressure and manipulating muscles and soft tissues to promote relaxation, increase blood flow and reduce tension and soreness.

During a massage therapy session for osteoarthritis in the feet, the therapist may use techniques to target the affected area, including kneading, rubbing, tapping and stretching. These techniques help to improve circulation, reduce swelling and improve the range of motion in the joints.

  • Weight Management

Regarding weight management and osteoarthritis in the feet, the process is relatively straightforward. The more weight a person carries, the more stress is placed on the joints in the feet. It can exacerbate osteoarthritis symptoms and activities to manage.

By maintaining a healthy weight, individuals can reduce stress on their feet and other joints.


To sum up, osteoarthritis in the feet is a common condition that affects many people, especially as they age. It is essential to understand the symptoms of osteoarthritis in the feet, such as osteoarthritis foot pain, stiffness, and swelling, and to seek medical attention if these symptoms persist. 

While there is no cure for osteoarthritis in the foot, there are treatment options that can improve the quality of life. These may include lifestyle changes, physical therapy, medications, and in severe cases, surgery. With proper management, individuals with osteoarthritis in their feet can continue to lead active, fulfilling lives.

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