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
- 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.