We rely on our feet for stability and movement. Feet are complex structures that support our weight and provide the ability to move in amazing ways. In fact, there are 28 bones and more than 30 joints in each foot! Although we take them for granted when everything feels fine, feet are unfortunately more prone to injury and conditions such as arthritis. Possible consequences of arthritis of the foot include pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of mobility. Proper foot care for arthritis can help minimize these symptoms.
Types of foot arthritis
There are more than 100 different kinds of arthritis that can affect the joints of the foot, but most cases belong to one of three categories: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and posttraumatic arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common, caused by wear and tear of the joints over time. Most people with osteoarthritis are over 50 but it can occur in younger people. Repeated stress of the joints wears away the cartilage in one or more joints. The bones of the joint then rub together painfully and bone spurs may develop. This condition may result in a bunion.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. Nobody knows the exact cause, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Often beginning in the foot, the immune system attacks the synovium, or lining of the joints. This causes painful swelling that can result in permanent deformity.
Posttraumatic arthritis develops after an injury, usually a fracture. People who have had an injury to the foot are much more likely to develop arthritis later on. This type of arthritis involves the wearing away of cartilage, similar to osteoarthritis. It can occur at any age if there has been a foot injury.
Foot arthritis care
Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are steps you can take to relieve pain and increase flexibility.
Weight loss – obesity increases the risk of developing arthritis due to increased pressure on the joints. Losing weight, even a small amount, can make a big difference in reducing pressure and pain.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be very effective in reducing swelling and relieving pain.
Physical therapy and exercise can increase mobility through flexibility and strengthening of supporting muscles.
Changing activities – If high impact activities are part of your routine, consider changing to something less likely to put stress on the joints of your feet. Walking, swimming, and yoga are good examples or exercises that are low-impact.
Orthotic devices and comfortable shoes – shoe inserts can relieve pressure on damaged joints and reduce pain when walking. High heels and point-toed shoes should be avoided. Shoes should be wide enough so that your foot is not being squeezed (especially if you have a bunion) with a square-toed front.
Apply cold packs – Cold helps reduce swelling and numbs painful joints, especially after you’ve been on your feet for a significant period of time.
Assistive devices – a cane can be a good way to reduce the amount of weight placed on your foot when walking.
If you have arthritis of the foot, your doctor can help determine the best treatment plan for your unique condition and activities. At the Colorado Center for Orthopaedic Excellence, our caring providers are experts in all kinds of foot and ankle conditions, including arthritis. In the Colorado Springs area, call (719) 623-1050 for an appointment today.