Is Subtalar Arthritis Limiting Your Movement?

The body’s joints help with movement and flexibility, but arthritis can place a damper on even the simplest actions. Arthritis is the wear and tear of cartilage and bone at a joint, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Few cases are more painful and limiting than arthritis of the subtalar joint. This joint sits right below the ankle joint and helps the foot with side-to-side movement. Patients with this type of arthritis experience heel pain when the foot strikes the ground. Other symptoms include stiffness, swelling, and even foot deformities. Subtalar fusion surgery removes the part that causes pain, allowing the bone to heal.

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What causes subtalar arthritis?

Subtalar arthritis can often be traced to a previous untreated injury. The damaged joint can cause bone spurs and degraded cartilage. However, most cases happen due to general wear and tear of the joint. Years of movements like running, standing, and jumping can create arthritis in older years. Other causes include poor posture and rheumatoid arthritis. A physical examination, X-ray, and MRI can pinpoint the degree of damage and determine the best course of action.

Moving without surgery

An orthopedic specialist will provide a range of non-surgical options to relieve pain. Wearing an ankle brace and comfortable shoes and pain management can help. Some doctors will advise patients to limit movement on uneven surfaces. Physical therapy and corticosteroid injections can provide some relief. However, surgery can bring long-term relief and improve mobility if these options fail after several months. Surgery is also recommended if there is significant damage to the subtalar joint that is clear on imaging.

Bringing bones together

Subtalar fusion seeks to remove the damaged cartilage and bone to create a solid piece of bone. Medical advancements allow this procedure to happen with minimally invasive techniques. The surgery starts with an incision several inches long along the side of the ankle. With minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon makes 2-3 small incisions instead. The pieces of bone and cartilage are removed, and a metal screw holds the heel and ankle joint together. The bones will fuse over several months to create a singular piece of bone. Once the surgeon is satisfied with the procedure, the incisions are closed, and the patient moves to recovery.

How successful is subtalar joint surgery?

Recovery from fusion surgery can take 12 weeks. However, with minimally invasive surgery, the recovery time is even shorter. After 12 weeks, patients may need physical therapy to improve the range of motion (ROM). Over 6-12 months, the bone grows and fuses around the screw. Fusion surgery has fantastic success rates of over 84%. Patients report reduced pain, stiffness, and a better quality of life. At the same time, there will be limited flexibility on uneven surfaces. Thanks to surgery, arthritis does not have to limit movement.

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