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Condition directory

Osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It is common in weight bearing joints such as the hip and knee but can impact any joint including foot and ankle. There are multiple small joint in the foot and ankle, the big toe is more commonly affected by OA.

Within our joints we have layers of cartilage on the moving surfaces as well as fluid that acts as a lubricant. Movement helps to lubricate joints as it distributes fluid over the moving surfaces. This can be part of the reason joints become stiff when we are still for a long period.

As a normal part of the ageing process the fluid becomes thinner and surfaces are less smooth. There can be additional bone growth that may cause the joint to look a bit different, this happen to help spread load across the joint. Joint surfaces can also become closer together.

OA can affect anybody at any age but is more common in people over the age of 45. Risk of developing OA can be linked to:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Previous injuries to the joint may put you more at risk, particularly with ankle injuries

Management of OA

Exercise is a core component to functioning well with osteoarthritis. Maintaining range of motion and strength at the joint can help keep you using it as normally as possible. It will promote strength and control in the joint and there is evidence that exercise and movement will help protect the joint from degenerative changes.

The best place to start is with the national guidelines for physical activity in the UK

  • 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week


  • 75 minutes of intense exercise per week

Along with

  • 2 session of resistance exercise per week

Exercise in this instance should be something you enjoy doing and are able to do with consistency. Paced approaches to exercise are often more beneficial than large amounts of activity in a short period of time that may often cause a flare. This often results in reduced activity for a number of days.

Some specific exercise for the foot and ankle are included on this page that may help with mobility and strength.

Weight management is important in OA. Excess weight can make things worse through increased load to the joints. There is also evidence that suggests that body fat stores can influence symptoms of OA. This makes it really important to manage lifestyle factors around OA as it can have a positive impact on your symptoms. There is information on this website relating to activity and weight management.

Referral through to podiatry may also be a useful addition as your feet can be assessed biomechanically to see if provision of foot orthoses/insoles may be able to help manage your foot and ankle symptoms.