Orthopedic & Spine Center > Orthopedic Services > Foot & Ankle >

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Arthritic Conditions & Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects joints of the body. In patients who suffer from inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system will perceive joint cartilage as a foreign substance. The layer of tissue (synovium) that lines and lubricates the joint, and transports nutrients to cartilage, will become aggravated and begin to overgrow. When the inflammatory response occurs, cartilage will erode, causing stiffness, pain, and destruction of the joint to the point that unprotected bone will rub against bone.

Most patients with rheumatoid arthritis (over 90%) will experience symptoms in their foot or ankle at some point, often affecting multiple joints and both feet. These symptoms commonly include pain, swelling, and stiffness, and can occur in both feet, the joints of the feet, or the sole of the foot. This can affect walking and physical activity, and may also lead to the development of corns, bunions, or hammer toe.

The disease can also affect the hindfoot (back of the foot) and ankle, which may cause joints to shift in position. This can lead to the collapse of the arch of the foot (flatfoot), which can cause pain and difficulty walking. As rheumatoid arthritis affects the entire immune system, it may also cause fevers, fatigue, loss of appetite, and the development of lumps around joints.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Nonsurgical treatment is generally effective in managing the disease and treating symptoms:

  • Medications – Rheumatoid arthritis can be effectively treated with medication, which can allow patients to control pain and maintain their mobility. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help with the management of pain, and other medications (prednisone, methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and gold compounds) can help slow the progression of the disease itself. For some patients, injections of steroid medications into the joint can alleviate inflammation and swelling.
  • Shoe modifications – Depending on the progression of the disease, shoe modifications can be used to provide relief. Shoes with a wide and deep toe box, for example, can provide relief in cases where toes have become rigid or are beginning to stiffen and curl. Soft arch support and a rigid heel can also be used. When cases are more severe, a molded orthotic device, canes, or crutches may be necessary.
  • Exercise – Physical therapy and exercise are an important means for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Stretching and exercises to improve function and range of motion can also help.

Although the disease can be managed with nonsurgical approaches, there may be cases when it has progressed to the point that other problems of the foot or ankle have developed, including flatfoot. Surgery may be used to correct certain deformities caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Meet with a South Bay Foot and Ankle Specialist

Torrance Memorial Physician Network is committed to the overall health of our patients. Request an appointment today at one of our three locations.