Foot & Ankle Services

Many people erroneously believe that it is normal for the feet to hurt, and simply resign themselves to enduring foot problems that could be treated. There are more than 300 different foot ailments. Among the most common that are treated in our office are:

A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe—the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint—that forms when the bone or tissue at the big toe joint moves out of place. This forces the toe to bend toward the others, causing an often painful lump of bone on the foot. Since this joint carries much of the body’s weight while walking, bunions can cause extreme pain if left untreated. The MTP joint itself may become stiff and sore, making even the wearing of shoes difficult or impossible. Bunions– from the Latin "bunio," meaning enlargement–can also occur on the outside of the foot along the little toe, where it is called a "bunionette" or "tailor’s bunion."

Some common characteristics of bunion include:

  • Development of a firm bump on the outside edge of the foot, at the base of the big toe.
  • Redness, swelling, or pain at or near the MTP joint.
  • Corns or other irritations caused by the overlap of the first and second toes.
  • Restricted or painful motion of the big toe.

Bunions form when the normal balance of forces that is exerted on the joints and tendons of the foot becomes disrupted. This can lead to instability in the joint and cause the deformity. They are brought about by years of abnormal motion and pressure over the MTP joint. They are, therefore, a symptom of faulty foot development and are usually caused by the way we walk, and our inherited foot type, our shoes, or other sources.

Although bunions tend to run in families, it is the foot type that is passed down—not the bunion. Parents who suffer from poor foot mechanics can pass their problematic foot type on to their children, who, in turn, are also prone to developing bunions. The abnormal functioning caused by this faulty foot development can lead to pressure being exerted on and within the foot, often resulting in bone and joint deformities such as bunions and hammertoes.

Other causes of bunions are foot injuries, neuromuscular disorders, or congenital deformities. People who suffer from flat feet or low arches are also prone to developing these problems, as are arthritic patients and those with inflammatory joint disease. Occupations that place undue stress on the feet are also a factor; ballet dancers, for instance, often develop the condition.

Wearing shoes that are too tight or cause the toes to be squeezed together is also a common factor, one that explains the high prevalence of the disorder among women.

Treatment options vary with the type and severity of each bunion, although identifying the deformity early in its development is important in avoiding surgery. Medical attention should be sought at the first indication of pain or discomfort because, left untreated, bunions tend to get larger and more painful, making nonsurgical treatment less of an option.

The primary goal of most early treatment options is to relieve pressure on the bunion and halt the progression of the joint deformity. An orthopaedic surgeon may recommend padding, medication, or orthotics (shoe inserts).

When early treatments fail or the bunion progresses past the threshold for such options, surgery may become necessary to relieve pressure and repair the toe joint.

Bunion Animation Bunion Animation
Bunionectomy Animation Bunionectomy Animation

A claw or hammertoe deformity is a contracture of the toe or toes, frequently caused by an imbalance in the tendon or joints of the toes. Due to the "buckling" effect of the toes, hammertoes may become painful secondary to footwear irritation and pressure. Corn and callus formation may occur as the deformity becomes more rigid over time, making it difficult to wear shoes. If special shoes or cushions cannot relieve the discomfort caused by these deformities, then your orthopaedic surgeon may suggest correction of this deformity through a surgical procedure to realign the toes.

Ulceration is a common occurrence with the diabetic foot, and should be carefully treated and monitored by an orthopaedic surgeon to avoid amputations. Poorly fitted shoes, or something as trivial as a stocking seam, can create a wound that may not be felt by someone whose level of skin sensation is diminished. Left unattended, such ulcers can quickly become infected and lead to more serious consequences. Your orthopaedic surgeon knows how to treat and prevent these wounds and can be an important asset in keeping your feet healthy and strong.

The key to amputation prevention in diabetic patients is early recognition and regular foot screenings, at least annually, from an orthopaedic surgeon. In addition to these check ups, there are warning signs that you should be aware of so that they may be identified and called to the attention of the family physician or orthopaedic surgeon. They include:

  • Skin color changes
  • Elevation in skin temperature
  • Swelling of the foot or ankle
  • Pain in the legs
  • Open sores on the feet that are slow to heal
  • Ingrown and fungal toenails
  • Bleeding corns and calluses
  • Dry cracks in the skin, especially around the heel

Should any of these warning sign appear, please call our office to make an appointment as soon as possible.

Osteoarthritis and Post-traumatic Arthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA), or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a form of arthritis characterized by the loss of joint smoothness and range of motion without major joint inflammation. Post-traumatic arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis, but the cause is clearly evident (usually the result of a trauma to the joint sometime in the past).

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting over 20 million people in the United States. It probably affects almost every person over age 60 to some degree, but symptoms are often mild.

Signs of osteoarthritis include joint pain and aching, limited range of motion and instability, erosion of the joint's cartilage and formation of bone spurs. Other symptoms include stiffness and roughness on motion; these symptoms are worse after heavy use. OA pathological changes involve both the cartilage and the bones.

If degenerative joint disease is related to abnormalities of cartilage surrounding joints (articular cartilage), it may involve many of the joints of the body. On the other hand, if the degenerative joint disease is caused by an injury, only one joint may be involved. The hips, knees, spine, and shoulders are most commonly involved. This condition may also affect some finger joints, the joint at the base of the thumb, and the joint at the base of the big toe.

In osteoarthritis, the normally smooth cartilage surface softens and becomes pitted and frayed. As the cartilage breaks down, the joint may lose its normal shape. The bone ends thicken and form bony growths, or spurs, where the ligaments and capsule attach to the bone.

Stiffness and joint deformity usually progress slowly without general body symptoms. By contrast, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually begins earlier, often developing more suddenly. RA usually affects the same joint on both sides of body (e.g. both knees), causing redness, warmth, and swelling of many joints. RA is often accompanied by a general feeling of sickness, fatigue, weight loss, and fever.

In the hip, OA may produce pain around the groin or in the inner thigh. Some people feel referred pain to the buttocks, the knee or along the side of the thigh. Degenerative joint disease of the hip may cause a limp and may limit range of motion, for example making it difficult to spread the legs.

Degenerative joint disease of the knees may produce pain and stiffness of the knee associated with a grating or catching sensation in the joint when it is moved. It may make it difficult to walk up and down stairs and lumps may be noted particularly along the medial (inner) side of the knee. If the pain prevents you from moving or exercising your knee, the large muscles around the knee area will become weaker.

Degenerative joint disease of the fingers may produce bony lumpiness around the joints of the finger and perhaps pain and stiffness of these joints as well. In the fingers, the breakdown of joint tissue in the fingers causes bony growths (spurs) to form in these joints. If spurs occur in the end joints of the fingers, they are called Heberden's nodes. If they occur in the joints in the middle of the fingers they are called Bouchard's nodes.

Degenerative joint disease of the feet most commonly affects the large joint at the base of the big toe. Stiffness, lumpiness and pain may be associated. Wearing tight shoes and high heels can make this pain worse.

Degenerative joint disease of the spine may produce stiffness of the back and at times, symptoms of pressure on the spinal cord and nerves running through the spine. The latter are particularly important to notice and may include numbness or weakness of the arms or legs, difficulty with controlling the bowel or bladder, loss of balance and pain radiating out the arms or down the legs.

"Wear and tear" is a widely accepted explanation of the cause of OA. It should be noted that OA is the result of an interlocking pathophysiologic malfunction of cartilage and bone metabolism. Interpreting "wear and tear" of the joints in OA from a biomechanic perspective allows patients to understand how OA differs from age-associated degeneration and overuse of the joints. There are ways to reduce the OA "wear and tear" effects which include weight control, muscle strengthening exercises, and increased proprioception accuracy (the ability to feel your joint's position in space).

The effects of degenerative joint disease can often be controlled by a few basic measures, such as diet, exercise, medication, and surgery.

If you have OA, your diet should optimize your body weight so that the joints do not bear large loads which would cause them to wear more quickly. Joints in a person with OA should be protected from rough use, particularly those involving sudden impacts. Canes or walkers may help protect the hip and knee and prevent limping. Physical therapy can help maintain joint ranges of motion, strength and stability. Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are also effective in relieving pain.

Surgical treatment for OA may include removing joint spurs, realigning the joint, fusion of the joint, and joint replacement. In the past several years, these operations have become very effective, and many people have benefited from joint reconstruction or replacement.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) primarily affects the synovium, the membrane that lines and lubricates a joint. It is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis at present. Until the cause of RA is known, it will not be possible to eliminate the disease entirely. The goals of current treatment methods, therefore, are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, stop or slow down joint damage, and improve function and patient well-being.

Initial symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are generally pain and stiffness in the morning and few symptoms with activity. The pain and swelling will usually progress on to obvious joint swelling and the level of stiffness in the morning increases. Other symptoms include fatigue and difficulty sleeping due to joint stiffness.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be distinguished from other forms of arthritis by the location and number of joints involved. The areas affected include the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands, especially the joints at the base and middle of the fingers but not the joints at the end of the fingers. In the lower extremities, RA can affect the hips, knees, ankles, and the joints at the base of the toes. RA tends to spare the low back. The joints affected tend to be involved in a symmetrical pattern. That is, if knuckles on the right hand are inflamed, it is likely that knuckles on the left hand will be inflamed as well. This symmetry is not found as often in most other types of arthritis.

Inflamed joints will be warm, swollen, tender, often red, and painful or difficult to move. These physical signs of arthritis are due to inflammation of the lining of joints and tendons in a layer of tissue that is called synovium. The cells of the immune system within the synovium appear active and capable of causing tissue damage. If this inflammation persists or does not respond well to treatment, destruction of nearby cartilage, bone, tendons, and ligaments can follow. This leads to deformity and disability that can be permanent.

Anyone can get rheumatoid arthritis, including children and the elderly. However, the disease usually begins in the young to middle adult years. Among people with RA, women outnumber men by 3 to 1. In the United States, approximately one percent of the population, or 2.5 million people, have rheumatoid arthritis. It occurs in all ethnic groups and in all parts of the world.

The goals of current RA treatment methods are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, stop or slow down joint damage, and improve function and patient well-being. There is no single standard treatment that applies to all people with RA. The disease may be very different from person to person. Instead, a treatment program should be designed to best meet each person's needs, taking into account how severe the arthritis is, other medical problems, and individual lifestyle and preferences. Often the use of two or more medications at a time, each serving a distinct purpose, is necessary. Some of these medications affect the immune system, making careful monitoring a requirement for treatment.

Treating rheumatoid arthritis usually involves a teamwork approach, using health professionals from different disciplines to help an individual deal with the disease. Treatment most often is directed and coordinated by an arthritis specialist, who is a physician with special training in arthritis and other diseases of the bones, muscles, and joints. Other health professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, psychologists, orthopaedic surgeons, and social workers, often play other roles in implementing the treatment plan.

It often is difficult to be patient when suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis might be tempted to try unproven treatments. A treatment that promises "a quick cure" or "miraculous relief" can sound wonderful. But remember, these unproven treatments usually are expensive and will do nothing. The sensational successes advertised are usually illusions. They even may be harmful and often keep people from getting the medical care they really need. For example, magnet therapy has not been proven to work for rheumatoid arthritis. New or alternative treatments should be discussed with your doctor.

Medical management may include the use of non-steroidal antiinflammatory medication, corticosteroids, injectable gold salts (Myochrysine, Solganal), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquinil) and antimalarial drugs, Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), D-Penicillamine (Depend, Cuprimine), and various other immunosuppressive agents.

Physical therapy treatments are helpful for most individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Physical therapists can teach you how to exercise appropriately for your physical capabilities. They will give you valuable instruction on how best to use heat and cold treatments to reduce joint stiffness and swelling and make movement easier. At times, therapists may use special machines to apply deep heat or electrical stimulation to reduce pain or improve joint mobility.

Therapists construct splints for the hand and wrist and teach people how to best protect and use their joints when they are affected by arthritis. They also show people how to better cope with day-to-day tasks at work and at home, despite limitations that may be caused by RA. Sometimes this includes the use of practical tools and items that help individuals perform their day-to-day activities. It is important to remember that people with RA can and should be able to do most of the normal or usual things everyone else can, except that it takes them a little bit longer to do it.

For individuals with severe joint damage, surgery such as total joint replacement can mean the difference between being dependent on others and independent life at home or in the community. Such procedures are performed by orthopaedic surgeons with special training in joint replacement. The damaged parts of the joints are replaced with metal or plastic components. Some people with RA will benefit from replacement of other joints and from other types of surgery for hand and foot problems caused by the disease. Patients with early rheumatoid arthritis, however, should be placed on a program of medications and therapy before surgery is considered.

An irritation of a nerve may produce a neuroma, which is a benign enlargement of a nerve segment, commonly found between the third and fourth toes. Several factors may contribute to the formation of a neuroma. Trauma, arthritis, high-heeled shoes, or an abnormal bone structure are just some of the conditions that may cause a neuroma. Symptoms such as burning or tingling in adjacent toes and even numbness are commonly seen with this condition. If conservative treatment does not relieve the symptoms, then you and your orthopaedic surgeon will decide based on your symptoms whether surgical treatment is appropriate.

A foot or ankle sprain occurs following a sudden sideways movement of the foot. The most often mechanism of injury occurs when a person lands from jumping or running onto an uneven surface. For example, this injury is often seen when basketball players come down from a jump and land on another player’s foot. A sprain results when the ligaments of the foot or ankle are either stretched too far or tear due to the injury.

When a person sustains a fracture of the foot, his or her ability to perform virtually any weight-bearing activity is immediately impaired. These injuries are often acute, occurring after a sudden force to the foot. Stress fractures, on the other hand, commonly occur in this region as well, and result from repetitive and often improper distributions of weight over the feet. An exact diagnosis based on physical exam findings and diagnostic images will determine treatment, whether conservative or surgical.

Ankle fractures are common injuries among people of all ages, interests and lifestyles. A wide range of athletic individuals — ballet dancers, snowboarders, basketball players, skydivers — are at high risk for ankle fractures because of the physical demands placed on their ankles. Ankle fractures also occur by slipping on an icy pavement, falling from a high place, or suffering a direct impact to the ankle during a car crash or motorcycle accident. High-impact ankle injuries are especially dangerous if they cause a fracture in which the bone penetrates the skin and is exposed to the air. The open wound allows bacteria to contaminate the broken bone, greatly increasing the risk of infection.

If you have a fractured ankle, your symptoms will probably include:

  • Pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising at your ankle joint
  • Inability to move your ankle through its normal range of motion
  • Inability to bear weight on your injured ankle
  • In some cases, a "crack" or "snap" in the ankle at the time of injury
  • In open fractures, severe ankle deformity, with portions of the fractured bone visible through broken skin

If your ankle fracture involves only a small portion of the bone, and the segments of broken bone lie very close together, your doctor can usually treat the injury by immobilizing your ankle and foot in a cast for six to eight weeks. After the cast is removed, your doctor will prescribe physical therapy to help restore the normal range of motion in your ankle joint.

If you have more extensive damage to your ankle, or if the fragments of broken bone are separated far from one another, your doctor will repair your fractured ankle surgically with special screws or wires. Injuries resulting in broken skin require intravenous antibiotics to prevent infection.

Achilles Tendon Injuries Achilles Tendon Injuries
Arthroscopic Ankle Cartilage Repair Arthroscopic Ankle Cartilage Repair
Lateral Ankle Ligament Reconstruction Lateral Ankle Ligament Reconstruction
Diagnostic Ankle Surgery Diagnostic Ankle Surgery

A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament. Ligaments connect one bone to another bone at a joint and help keep the bones from moving out of place. The most common site for a sprain is the ankle. Signs of an ankle sprain are swelling, pain, bruising and trouble moving the ankle after the injury.

Sometimes, a sprain is just an awkward moment when you lose your balance with pain that quickly fades away and you go on your way. But the sprain could be more severe; your ankle might swell and it might hurt too much to stand on it. If it’s a severe sprain, you might have felt a "pop" when the injury happened.

A sprained ankle means one or more ligaments on the outside of your ankle were stretched or torn. If it is not treated properly, you could have long-term problems. Severe sprains put you at risk for permanent ankle instability. For severe ankle sprains, your doctor may also consider treating you with a short leg cast for two to three weeks or a cast-brace.

Once your sprain has completely healed, a program of ankle exercises will help prevent reinjury by making the muscles stronger, which provides protection to the ligaments. Special wraps that use hook and loop fasteners or air-filled or laced braces may also help prevent reinjury. Wearing high-top tennis shoes may also help prevent ankle sprains if your shoes are laced snugly and if you also tape your ankle with a wide, nonelastic adhesive tape. Elastic tape or braces are usually not helpful because the elastic gives too much around the joint. Taping should only be performed by knowledgeable medical personnel, such as physical therapists or athletic trainers.

If treated improperly, ankle pain and instability may persist. Occasionally, surgery is indicated for these patients. Frequent repeat ankle sprains may also need surgical repair to tighten the ligaments.

Some problems may be traced to heredity, but for most patients, these ailments result from the cumulative effect of years of neglect or abuse. The physicians at Greater Metropolitan Orthopaedics are trained to treat all disorders of the foot and ankle, and are happy to discuss your options.