How do I know if my foot pain is arthritis?

Osteoarthritic pain is often described as intense, aching pain. Often changes to the foot structure will be palpable or visible. Small hard lumps may develop over time; commonly in the toes or across the top of the foot. Generally, arthritic pain is exacerbated when cold or with cold packs and eases with warmer weather or heat packs and gels.

A Podiatrist will be able to help determine through clinical assessments and radiological imaging if osteoarthritis is present in your foot and ankle.

How can Podiatrists help manage Osteoarthritis?

The key in treatment for osteoarthritis is prevention and slowing the progression of the disease.

As Podiatrists we can help to slow arthritic degeneration through soft tissue stretching and strengthening, joint mobilisation, footwear and orthotic therapy.

Once prevention is no longer an option and the disease has progressed significantly, often immobilisation of these joints is required to relieve painful symptoms that have developed which can be achieved through orthotic therapy.

Together, you and your podiatrist will come up with an individualised treatment plan that is best suited to your needs.

Arthritis (Osteoarthritis)

Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative process that affects the joints.

It is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide (about 1 in 5 Australians).

It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time. Although osteoarthritis can occur in any joint in the body, it most commonly affects the weight-bearing joints ie: knees, hips, spine and also the joints in the hands.

How does osteoarthritis affect foot function?

The foot and ankle are made up of 26 different bones that work together to provide the body with a propulsive, supportive and stable base. All of these bones articulate with each other through joints which are then stabilized by ligaments, muscle tendons and other soft tissue structures.

Osteoarthritis in the foot and ankle can occur gradually as a normal part of the aging process but can be accelerated through injury, pain, muscle imbalance, poor foot posture and use of improper footwear.

When the soft tissue and cartilage wear down, bone-on-bone grinding can occur leading to reduced range of motion, pain and inflammation.

Signs & Symptoms: 

  • Typically, it presents as an insidious onset of deep, aching joint pain which is exacerbated by activity and alleviated by rest 
  • Stiffness in the mornings usually lasts for <30min 
  • Joints may become swollen, have a rough/crunchy sensation, and have a limitation in range of motion

It is important to note however:

  • Not all osteoarthritis is symptomatic (some may not cause any pain) 
  • Not all symptomatic osteoarthritis causes disability 


  • A diagnosis is usually made on clinical assessment of the above signs and symptoms by a qualified practitioner.
  • X-rays are used to confirm the diagnosis.