What causes arthritis in feet?
The feet are a complex structure in your body. They house not only muscles and ligaments, but also over 28 bones and more than 30 joints that allow you to have a full range of motion. Your feet provide:
- Shock absorption
- Help with general movement
Unfortunately, as we age, those 30 joints in the feet that have served us so well are highly susceptible to arthritis that can lead to foot pain. In fact:
- An estimated 40 million U.S. people suffer from arthritis
- 90% of people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis experience pain in the foot and ankle joints
- Almost 50% of people in their 60s and 70s have arthritis-related foot pain
- An injured joint is seven times more likely to become arthritis over time
Arthritis in feet can affect the toes, especially the big toes, bones in the heel, and the ankle joint itself. There are over 100 kinds of arthritis that can lead to arthritis in feet, but the most common causes are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and posttraumatic arthritis.
If you’re over the age of 60 and suffer from pain that is worse in the morning, you may be suffering from osteoarthritis. Over time, the cartilage in your joint has worn away with repeated stress and use. As this protective coating gets thinner, the bones can rub together and cause inflammation and pain.
Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear disease that is commonly caused by aging. As the American Podiatric Medical Association explains:
“Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is frequently called degenerative joint disease or ‘wear and tear’ arthritis. Although it can be brought on suddenly by an injury, its onset is generally gradual; aging brings on a breakdown in cartilage, and pain gets progressively more severe.”
Osteoarthritis in the feet may be caused by:
- Degenerative effects of aging
- Abnormal foot structures–such as flat feet or high arches–that lead to excessive strain over time
- An old injury, such as jamming your toe or spraining your ankle
Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in that it doesn’t occur from aging. In fact, rheumatoid arthritis is a set of symptoms that are caused by abnormalities in the immune system. While the exact cause of these symptoms is unknown, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains that:
“Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system attacks its own tissues. In rheumatoid arthritis, immune cells attack the synovium covering the joint, causing it to swell. Over time, the synovium invades and damages the bone and cartilage, as well as ligaments and tendons, and may cause serious joint deformity and disability.”
If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, you’ve likely experienced arthritis in feet, toes, or ankles.
Another type of arthritis that’s less common is gout, or gouty arthritis. This condition is due to a buildup of uric acid in the joints. Typically, it affects areas that are furthest away from the heart. In this case, the big toe. As we’ll discuss, there are medications, as well as lifestyle and diet modifications, you can make to reduce your symptoms of gout.
Finally, your arthritis may actually be caused by an old sports injury that happened years ago. Dislocations, sprains, and fractures are the most common injuries that lead to this type of arthritis. Posttraumatic arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis in that the cartilage between joints wears away over time.
As noted, an injured joint is seven times more likely to become arthritis, even if your injury was properly treated.
What are the signs of arthritis in feet?
If you suffer from foot arthritis, you’ll likely experience the following signs of arthritis:
- Pain with motion
- Increased pain after vigorous activity
- Increased pain in the morning or after rest
- Joint tenderness
- Swelling, warmth, or redness in your joints
- Difficulty walking
- Large, bony growths, such as bumps, corns, or calluses
- Skin rashes
- Clicking and popping noises
- Difficulty bending the joint
- Locked joints, in severe cases
For those with arthritis in toes, putting on shoes can be difficult. For others, getting out of bed in the morning can cause excruciating pain. The growths associated with arthritis can even change the shape of your feet. Simply put, foot arthritis can be a serious, debilitating condition that negatively affects your overall quality of life. Thankfully, there are some ways to ease symptoms, as we’ll discuss later.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in feet
If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in your feet, you may experience additional or more severe symptoms, including:
- Fatigue and fever during flare-ups
- Redness or warmth in the joint
- Swelling of the joints
- Skin and nail problems
- Circulation and nerve problems
- Extreme pain or stiffness in the morning or after rest
- Chronic inflammation that makes your toes twist or change shape
- Rheumatoid nodules, bunions, calluses, or claw toes
- Symmetrical pain that occurs in the same place in both feet
You can see more pictures of how rheumatoid arthritis affects your joints over on HealthLine. You can also read more about foot rheumatoid arthritis symptoms at the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
Can you get arthritis in your feet?
As you age, you face an increased risk of suffering from arthritis in feet or your big toes. Age is the number one risk factor for osteoarthritis.
Other risk factors for arthritis may include:
- Having an old injury in the feet
- Excess weight
- Comorbid conditions, such as bowel disorders
- Being male, in cases of gout
- Being female, in cases of rheumatoid arthritis
Further, as HealthLine explains, if you wear tight, high-heeled shoes often, you may also be at risk for toe arthritis.
If you have any of these risk factors, and have been experiencing pain, it’s important to talk to a doctor. Cartilage destruction can’t be reversed. Early diagnosis is crucial for treating and managing arthritis.
What is treatment for arthritis in the feet?
There is no cure for arthritis, but the pain associated with it can be reduced drastically for some patients. The goals of treatment are to:
- Manage symptoms
- Reduce pain
- Bring disease into remission
- Control inflammation
- Preserve or restore joint function
Many patients find the best foot arthritis treatment is one that uses a number of complementary therapies to find relief. A combination of natural treatments, such as orthotics and exercises, along with medication and interventional strategies can help you get back to your life.
Natural treatments for foot arthritis
If you suffer from arthritis in the foot or toe arthritis, you have many options to find relief. The most important one is to lose any excess weight. Extra weight puts additional pressure on the joints, leading to an increase in pain. If you lose weight, you can relieve a lot of your pain.
Along with weight-loss, the six other proven natural treatments for arthritis include:
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet for arthritis
- Getting in low-impact exercise, as exercise is one of the most important ways to reduce arthritis pain
- Getting foot massages to reduce tension in your feet
- Bracing to support the joint during exercise
- Finding the right shoes for foot arthritis
- Performing exercises and stretches for your feet, especially with big toe arthritis
Foot arthritis exercises
To get in those exercise and stretches you need, physical therapy can be crucial. A highly-trained physical therapist can help you find exercises that work to reduce your pain. As Foot Health Facts explains:
“Exercises to strengthen the muscles, especially when osteoarthritis occurs in the ankle, may give the patient greater stability and may help him or her avoid injury that might worsen the condition.”
You can also perform stretching exercises at home. The two following videos are less than ten minutes long, and could even be done during commercials. The goal is to loosen up the joints in the foot and ankle.
Kim McNeil discusses some strengthening and stretching exercises you can do for foot arthritis.
You can also try the video of yoga exercises for arthritis in the feet from Expert Village.
WebMD also has three exercises you can do to reduce toe arthritis. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program. They can also suggest other exercises you can try.
Best shoes for arthritis in feet
Shoes for arthritis are another common way to relieve pain. As EveryDay Health explains:
“Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes is key. Shoes should be wide enough so that they don’t press on any bunions or calluses. Skip the high heels because they put more pressure on the balls of your feet. Arch support is essential to stabilize joints that are moving more than they should, which can happen with arthritis, explains Frisch. The toning athletic shoes that are popular these days can be a good choice for foot health.”
The Arthritis Foundation has given their Ease of Use Commendation to the Gravity Defyer brand. These arthritis shoes help take some of the pressure off your foot and are available in multiple widths, depending on your foot.
It doesn’t stop at the shoes. Talk to your doctor about arthritis compression socks that can also help increase circulation and reduce pain. You can also use orthotics, such as pads in your shoes, to help relieve pressure from growths.
Interventional treatments for arthritis
Once you’ve made changes to your lifestyle, and have incorporated different stretching exercises into your routine, it may be time to talk to your doctor about additional treatments. First-line treatments should always focus on exercise, weight loss, and dietary changes.
After, you may consider these three interventional strategies:
- Taking medications, such as ibuprofen or topical creams, during pain flare-ups
- Receiving cortisone injections to provide pain relief and reduce inflammation
- Getting surgery
Medications and creams can provide short-term relief during acute flare-ups of pain. Joint injections and surgery are longer-term solutions that should only be considered after other strategies have been tried.
Foot joint injections
Joint injections provide relief for a number of months and can help you avoid surgery. The following video shows how a knee joint injection takes place. While not exactly the procedure you’d be undergoing, it does give a good basic overview of joint injections. These procedures are minimally-invasive, largely effective, and have very few side effects.
Foot arthritis surgery
Finally, if no other options have worked to reduce your pain, you may want to talk to your doctor about foot arthritis surgery. As the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society explains:
“This may mean cleaning the arthritic joint, eliminating the painful motion of the joint, replacing the joint with an artificial joint or a combination of all these.”
Surgery does come with additional risks and side effects. Recovery can take anywhere from four to nine months. However, for those who are suffering from severe arthritis in feet, surgery can be a life-saving solution to help them get back to their lives.
Find help for arthritis in feet
If you suffer from arthritis in the foot, toe, or ankle, there are ways to find relief. You don’t have to live with the pain from arthritis. From lifestyle changes to surgery, you have options. Working a pain specialist who has advanced experience treating patients with arthritis pain is your best bet to getting the relief you need.
You can find a PainDoctor.com-certified pain specialist in your area by clicking the button below. They’ll work closely with you to provide the comprehensive care you need to get back to a life with less pain.
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