Many people with foot pain will attribute their pain to arthritis without actually knowing what arthritis is.  The fact is, the foot joints (and ankle joint too) can become arthritic due to wear and tear of joint tissue over time, as well as due to a previous injury.  What is NOT the case is that arthritis is the cause of majority of foot pain.  When arthritis affects the foot, it does so in very specific areas, and typically has specific symptoms.


Several areas in the foot develop arthritis over time.  One of the most common areas is in the big toe joint.  In this case, the big toe begins to have difficulty moving upward, and hard bumps can develop on top of the joint that are in actuality bone spurs.  Stooping, squatting on the toes, high heel use, and general walking become hard to do as the joint locks up and becomes painful.  It should be noted that the smaller toes (i.e. any toe not the big toe) typically do not develop actual arthritis but can commonly deform into what is called a hammertoe.  A hammertoe deformity is seen as a bent and contracted toe, but this is the result of structural imbalance in the foot, and not a pure arthritic process as the joints in the toe are usually fine in this deformity.


Another common area the foot can become arthritic is in the middle of the foot.  The bones in the middle of the foot have a complicated arrangement and are all sort of locked in together.  However, the compression forces on top of the foot that develop when one bears weight gradually can cause damage and spurring to the top of these joint surfaces, leading to pain while standing and moving that is usually felt in the top of the arch.  Sometimes the bone spurs can even be felt through the skin on top of the foot.


Going further back in the foot, another typical area that develops arthritis is in a joint called the subtalar joint.  This joint sits below the ankle joint, and links together the heel bone and the bone above it that forms the bottom surface of the ankle.  The subtalar joint is responsible for much of the inward and outward movement of the foot, and can become arthritic due to many causes that can often include  prior fracture or dislocation to either of the two bones in this joint, untreated flat feet, and degeneration of an important tendon on the side of the foot called the posterior tibial tendon.  When this joint is arthritic, all foot motion becomes painful, and typically a deep aching pain is felt below the ankle joint in the foot, especially when one has their full weight on the foot.


Finally, the ankle joint is another common area of arthritis.  Although technically outside the foot, the ankle is still considered a part of the foot as it is the foot's connection to the leg.  Like the subtalar joint, the ankle joint can become arthritic in the years to follow an injury, such as  a severe ankle sprain or an ankle fracture.  Arthritis can develop due to infection, as well as simple degeneration over time.  With ankle arthritis, the ankle becomes stiff, painful, and difficult to fully bend, and this can lead to other damage to the bones and ligaments of the foot that have to try and move more to account for the lost ankle motion.


Other joints in the foot can develop arthritis as a result of specific fractures and infections involving the bones that form these joints.  However, these are not as common as the above arthritic conditions because they involve very specific injuries.  Additionally, body-wide diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause arthritis that involves the foot as well, and specific conditions like gout and joint infections can cause single, specific joints to become red, warm, and swollen.


So, it is safe to say that if one develops foot pain, it is not a good idea to simply blame arthritis and assume nothing can be done about it.  A proper assessment by a foot specialist needs to be made, as it is more likely the pain is due to some other condition that needs treatment.  Even if it is arthritis causing the pain, there are a wide range of treatments available both non-surgical and surgical that can be performed to treat the arthritis and reduce, if not remove, the pain.