Osteoarthritis in the Lower Limb

Osteoarthritis (or arthritis) is a degenerative joint disease that is characterised by pain and stiffness in one or multiple joints in the body.  In the lower limb, it most commonly affects the hips, knees, and joint of the foot.

Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The hallmark sign of osteoarthritis is degeneration of articular cartilage (the protective tissue located at the end of the bones in the joint).  This cannot be seen directly on an x-ray, however examining the asymmetry in the joint space indicates that this has occured.
A foot with HAV deformity and a hammer toe

Other signs of arthritis can be seen clearly on an x-ray such as osteophytes (bony projections) and subchondral sclerosis (abnormal hardening of bone at the joint space).

Symptoms are typically aches and pains in the joints especially early in the morning and worse when the weather is cold.

Osteoarthritis Treatment

Exercise is a great conservative treatment for osteoarthritis of the hips, knees, and feet.  It can result in decreased joint pain and increased joint function.

A good place to start is range of motion exercises, which can be done non-weight-bearing.  There are also many strengthening and stretching regimes that can be utilised.

 

Feet are Complex

Unfortunately, there are factors that limit the efficacy of exercise to treat osteoarthritis in the foot. These include: Wearing non-supportive footwear, excessive weight bearing on hard surfaces without adequate support, and abnormal lower limb bio-mechanics.

Abnormal bio-mechanics such as a severe flat foot can lead to high forces acting through the joints of the foot, which can exacerbate any symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Relief is at Hand

Your podiatrist can address all of these factors, whether it is providing exercise anagement/lifestyle advice or pairing custom foot orthotics (see custom orthotics info here)with appropriate footwear to control the motion and forces in the foot.

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