Having rheumatoid arthritis affects almost every part of your body. But often, one of the first parts of your body to be affected is your feet. The inflammation that’s characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis is different from the wear-and-tear associated with osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is associated with flat feet, with the occurrence of it increasing 3-4 years after the onset of the disease. Other foot problems are also associated with RA. The providers at Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine explain more about how RA can affect your feet.
The symptoms of RA
RA is different from the more common osteoarthritis. RA is an autoimmune condition, in which your immune system attacks healthy cells within your body. This causes inflammation and swelling in your joints, which is often extremely painful.
Although specialists called rheumatologists are the most qualified to make the RA diagnosis, you need to have podiatrists on your health care team once you’ve been diagnosed.
Some symptoms that you may have RA include:
- Aching or pain in at least one joint
- Swelling and tenderness in one of your joints
- Stiffness in at least one of your joints
- The same symptoms on both sides of your body (such as both knees)
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tiredness
How RA affects your feet
Often, your feet are the first part of your body to indicate that you have a problem with RA.
If you have flat feet, the arches of your feet may be fallen or even completely non-existent. If you look at your wet footprint, such as when you get out of the shower, you won’t see the telltale curve of a normal footprint.
Without proper arches, it means that your body will have difficulty in supporting your weight. This effect is magnified even more if you’re overweight or obese, which is one reason why we strongly urge our patients with RA to manage their weight.
Wearing shoes with proper support can help you to avoid further damage to your feet. Similarly, you should avoid going barefoot as often as possible. RA causes progressive damage to your feet, which can lead to pain, mobility problems, and even disability.
Ways to manage foot pain with RA
Foot pain is strongly associated with RA. You may experience any or all of the following:
- Persistent aching or soreness in your feet, especially if you have to spend long periods of time standing
- Swelling in one or more toe joints and even in your ankles
- Stiffness in your toe joints and/or the ligaments of your feet
- Abnormal warmth in your feet, even if the rest of your body is fairly cool
If you notice these symptoms, you can try some treatments at home to alleviate some of the discomfort. Some of these self-care treatments include:
- Taking a warm bath to reduce the swelling
- Spending time off your feet as much as possible
- Using the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method
- Wearing customized insoles, called orthotics, in your shoes
- Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen sodium (Aleve®)
If you need more help with foot pain
If you have tried the above measures and are still having foot pain, our providers can help. You may choose to try disease-modifying drugs specifically for RA, to get corticosteroid injections into your feet, or even have surgery on your feet to remove debris and damaged cartilage and to fuse the bones together.
If you know or suspect that you have RA, call the providers at Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine for additional help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.