As an inflammatory autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis often affects the joints of the feet and can cause foot pain, changes to the alignment of your feet and put strain on the tendons and ligaments of your feet. It's not uncommon for those with rheumatoid arthritis in their feet to find walking becomes gradually more difficult, but podiatry can support you to retain healthy feet.
Here's an overview of common foot problems associated with rheumatoid arthritis and how podiatric treatment can help:
Foot Problems Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis
The following foot problems are commonly found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis:
- Hallux Valgus - When the joints that connect your toes to the long bones across the top of your feet experience erosion, you may develop hallux valgus. This is a condition that causes your big toe to curve in toward your second toe.
- Hammer Toes - Damage to your toe joints can cause the middle joints of your toes to bend upwards. This condition, known as hammer toes, can make it difficult to wear shoes comfortably and leaves your toes rubbing against the tops of your shoes.
- Corns And Calluses - Joint erosion and the resultant joint instability can create pressure sites that are susceptible to corns and calluses, which can ulcerate and become infected if left untreated due to your compromised immune system.
- Collapsed Arches - Joint damage to the middle of your feet can put too much pressure on the muscles of your feet and cause your arches to collapse, leaving you with flat feet. Collapsed arches can cause lower leg pain and leave your feet aching after even a short walk.
- Achilles Tendinopathy - This condition affects the tendon that connects you heel bone to the muscles in your calf. This tendon allows you to flex your foot, but when too much pressure is put on it the tendon can develop scar tissue and stiffen.
Your podiatrist will examine your feet and take details of your symptoms before formulating a treatment plan. Treatment can include the following:
- Orthotic Insoles - Custom-made orthotic insoles can support the joints in your feet by changing how your weight is distributed across your feet. They can be made to reduce pressure on your heels, on the balls of your feet or to lift and support your arches. You simply slip the insoles into whatever shoes you want to wear.
- Toe Splints - Hallux valgus and hammer toes can be treated with toe splints, which consist of a soft plastic sole that sits under your toes and material that fits over your toes and tightens to hold them in a straighter position. Toes splints can reduce rubbing and train your toes to straighten if worn regularly.
- Exercises - Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises can loosen a stiff Achilles tendon and restore movement. Your podiatrist will show you how to do exercises at home that are safe for those with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Shoes - Stiff or curled toes can be protected by wearing shoes with a deep toe box. This will reduce friction and prevent injury to your toes. Your podiatrist will make a cast of your feet and arrange for shoes to be custom-made to your exact requirements.
- Surgery - In severe cases of Achilles tendinopathy or hammer toes, surgery may be required. For Achilles tendinopathy, the scar tissue restricting movement is severed, while hammer toe is treated by severing the surrounding tendons and realigning the toe joints.
If you're concerned about the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on the health of your feet, schedule an appointment with your podiatrist for a thorough foot exam. Contact a company like Walk Without Pain for more information.