How is arthritis in the foot and ankle diagnosed?

Dr. Michael Barnett describes how doctors diagnose foot and ankle arthritis. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

How is arthritis in the foot and ankle diagnosed?

The best way we diagnose foot and ankle arthritis is by an X-ray. There are cardinal signs on an X-ray that an orthopedic surgeon can look at and tell you whether or not you are developing arthritis, such as loss of the joint space on an X-ray. Cartilage doesn't show up well on an X-ray like bone does, and so if the spaces between the bones become smaller, then we know you're developing thinning of the cartilage which is arthritis. There's also bone spurs that can form. As your body senses the cartilage loss, the joints become unstable, that forms bone spurs, and so those are readily seen on an X-ray. To an orthopedic surgeon, the X-ray is invaluable. It's definitely going to be the number one tool we start with.

We get weight bearing films, which is even better than doing a non-weight bearing film because this loads the joints. And, if you can imagine if you don't put load through your joint, you're not gonna have a decreased cartilage space like you would if you put weight through it. And so, this really gives us a good indication as to how advanced the arthritic process has become.

   

The best way to diagnose foot and ankle arthritis in the office is with an X-ray. There are cardinal signs – such as loss of the joint space – that an orthopedic surgeon can see on an X-ray and know if you are developing arthritis. Cartilage doesn't show up well on an X-ray like bone does. If the spaces between the bones become smaller, then we know your cartilage is thinning, which is arthritis. Bone spurs also can be seen on an X-ray. As your body senses cartilage loss, the joints become unstable, and bone grows to try to stabilize the joint.

Weight-bearing X-rays show how your joints look and how they behave when you are standing. This gives us a good indication about how advanced the arthritic process is within your joint.

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