The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Feet

Posted by on Friday, September 7th, 2012

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The bad new is that there are two kinds of arthritis. The worse news is that both attack your feet and toes. Wait, we have more bad news–osteoarthritis, which can lead to crippling toe pain and perhaps toe joint replacement, generally affects older people. Rheumatoid arthritis, though, can strike at a much younger age.

So that’s plenty of bad news. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about your feet and rheumatoid arthritis, and how you can manage your condition.

What’s rheumatoid arthritis? Well, first, about osteoarthritis–

I didn’t ask about regular arthritis. I’m doing compare/contrast. Trust me, this will work.

Okay, go ahead. Osteoarthritis, the more common arthritis, occurs when the cartilage that provides cushioning between the joints and bones wears out and the joints are left to rub against the bone. Inflammation occurs, creating the stiffness of arthritis.  It’s generally caused by overuse and therefore typically affects joints that bear weight or are used repetitively. It typically begins to show up after age forty.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. For unknown reasons, the body thinks the lining between the joints is under attack so the immune system fights back unnecessarily. The overreaction causes inflammation, which again makes joints stiff and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis can be found in any joint, causing pain anywhere in the body. It can strike people as young as twenty.

No one knows exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis and why your immune system suddenly acts like its being attacked by invaders from Mars. It may be hereditary, possibly with a chemical or environmental factor required to set it off.

So what’s the big deal about rheumatoid arthritis and my feet? Why should I care about RA down there? Well, because you stand and walk on your feet, so any disease that attacks them is a pretty big deal.   Most people who have rheumatoid arthritis feel it in their feet at some point; for many people, pain in stiffness in their toes, feet, or ankles is the first symptom they have of  rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition to the pain and stiffness in their joints, people who have rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop other foot problems, such as bunions, Charcot foot, plantar fasciitis, and rheumatoid nodules, or hard, pea-sized lumps that can be found under the soles of the feet or the bottom of the big toe.

Okay, so what if my feet are affected by rheumatoid arthritis? What do I do? In addition to your regular doctor, you should also see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to discuss the best way to manage your pain and keep the condition from worsening. Suggestions may include:

  • Exercises and stretching under the guidance of your podiatrist or a physical therapist.
  • Splinting of the foot or ankle at night or possibly during the day as well, to keep the painful area from moving. The immobilized area can then calm down and recover.
  • Heat can loosen up stiffened muscles; ice can calm inflammation. Talk to your podiatrist about which is appropriate when.
  • Prescription drugs to reduce inflammation and swelling or less powerful over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and aspirin. Your doctor can advise you about which is best for you.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an unfair disease that seemingly strikes without rhyme or reason. However, with the right care you don’t have to let it ruin your life. Take care of your feet and the rest of your life will feel a lot more manageable!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.