What Are the Signs of Arthritis in Your Feet?
Have you ever been walking, running, or doing basic household chores, when suddenly you get intense pain in one or both of your feet? Maybe the pain isn’t connected to any injury that you know of, and you’re concerned that you might be developing some type of arthritis.
What are the signs that arthritis might be starting to affect your feet, and what particular forms of arthritis target the feet? Join us as we answer these questions.
What Is Arthritis?
Any condition that has “-itis” in its name is an inflammatory condition. Arthritis is when there’s inflammation in the joints of the body. While there are over 250 joints in the body, the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, wrists, fingers, and toes are often the most noticeably affected joints by arthritis. There are several different forms of arthritis, some of which are specifically known for affecting the feet.
If you suffer from a form of arthritis, you may feel an aching, throbbing, or burning sensation in the affected joints. The pain can make everyday tasks difficult and, in severe cases, can cause you to become immobile.
Why Does Arthritis Affect the Feet?
Different types of arthritis frequently affect the feet because there are a number of joints that are prone to arthritis (especially the toes and ankles) and because the feet are some of the most used parts of our bodies.
Often playing sports that involve a lot of running, long-distance jogging, and doing a lot of work outside puts extra stress on the feet, making them more susceptible to developing arthritis.
How Do You Know if You’re Developing Arthritis in Your Feet?
If you’re starting to develop arthritis of the foot, it will probably be obvious. You’ll have difficulty walking, standing, and possibly even resting.
Here are a few tell-tale signs that you may be starting to experience arthritis in your feet:
- Pain or swollen feet when at rest
- Significant discomfort trying to stand, especially for long periods of time
- Feelings of tenderness to the touch
- Pain with movement in the toes, midfoot, or ankles
- Visible swelling or redness in the feet
If you suddenly start experiencing pain, especially in your big toe, then it’s possible that you may have developed a type of arthritis like gout. If the pain slowly builds over time, then it’s more likely that you’re in the beginning stages of osteoarthritis or RA. If you already have a condition like psoriasis and start experiencing joint stiffness or pain, then psoriatic arthritis is more likely.
Just because you are experiencing one or many of the symptoms of arthritis mentioned above doesn’t necessarily mean that you have arthritis, as there are other conditions and diseases that cause similar discomfort. Be sure to talk to a podiatrist if you’re concerned about the root of your pain.
What Types of Arthritis Are There?
There are many different types of arthritis, each of which can present in slightly varying ways. Here are some of the most common types of arthritis and how to recognize them:
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is caused by age and long-term overuse of the joints in the body. Millions of Americans every year develop osteoarthritis, sustain joint injuries, or encounter wear and tear on particular joints.
Osteoarthritis often feels like cracking or popping sensations in the joints, especially when they’re being used. It can affect the feet, especially if you’re a runner or hiker or engage in another activity that involves a lot of tension and pressure on the feet.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
The major difference between RA and osteoarthritis is that RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks its own joints. This can cause RA to come on without much warning, while osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly over time.
RA usually feels like a swollen, tender, burning pain in the joints and can sometimes begin hurting without a clear reason or trigger. It usually affects the feet or ankles (about 90% of the time).
A buildup of uric acid in the joints is the cause of gout, a type of arthritis that’s traditionally been associated with consuming too much red meat. Gout often is felt in the big toe, beginning with severe attacks that feel like burning, pulsating, and aching pain.
The discomfort can be so severe that it can be difficult to even walk during a flare-up.
Psoriatic Arthritis (PA)
If you have psoriasis (a skin disorder that causes dry, red, inflamed skin), there’s a chance you could develop psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition that frequently affects the feet.
PA can often cause the toes to swell up, a condition called “sausage toes.” Because it’s autoimmune, there isn’t a cure. Instead, the symptoms and flare-ups must be managed.
In addition to actual forms of arthritis, some conditions cause very similar symptoms, often causing confusion over whether they are arthritis or not.
Here are some common conditions that cause arthritis-like pain:
- Fibromyalgia: There is still a lot to be learned about fibromyalgia, a neuropathic condition that causes extreme tiredness, headaches that come and go, and pain throughout the body, especially in the joints.
- Lupus: An autoimmune condition, lupus attacks the central nervous system. It often causes pain in the joints that feels like arthritis but also rashes on the skin, exhaustion, and fever.
- Neuropathy: Often a symptom of diabetes or celiac disease, neuropathy causes painful burning, tingling, numbing, and electric sensations in the hands and feet. It can be a stressful condition to deal with because it can be very hard to figure out what triggers flare-ups of pain.
- Bunions: It can be easy to confuse bunions with gout because they affect the big toes. Bunions are bony bumps that form on the bottom of the big toe over time from shoes that are too tight, standing for long periods of time, or overuse of the feet. Unlike gout, they come on slowly, steadily getting more and more painful. A similar condition, hammertoe, can cause similar pain on the toe immediately next to the big toe.
How Can You Manage Pain in Your Feet?
Even if you have an arthritic condition already diagnosed, there are ways to manage the pain and potentially reduce the number of flare-ups that you experience. Living with a painful condition like arthritis means being prepared for discomfort before it arrives.
Here are some ways that your healthcare provider can help and some things you can do at home:
Medical Interventions and Procedures
Your podiatrist may recommend a number of interventions for arthritis pain in the feet. Some common treatments options include:
- Medication: NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or pain medication like acetaminophen can be prescribed to deal with
- Injections: If you’re suffering from ankle joint pain due to arthritis, a steroid injection may help lubricate the joint and lessen the inflammation.
- Orthotics: These inserts go in your shoes and are meant to better cushion your feet and provide arch support to lessen pain and inflammation.
- Physical therapy: If you are suffering from arthritis due to an injury, your doctor might recommend going to see a professional physical therapist. They can teach you exercises to help build your muscles, tendons, and ligaments and strengthen your joints without reinjuring yourself.
- Surgery: In extreme cases with significant joint damage, a joint replacement or fusion surgery may be necessary.
Things You Can Do at Home
In addition to medical help, there’s a lot you can do for arthritis pain in the feet at home. Here are a few suggestions:
- Cold and Heat: Using a heating pad, hot water bath, or jacuzzi can help soothe pain from arthritis. Using an ice pack or cold patch can help the pain by numbing it away.
- Topical rubs: There’s a large variety of over-the-counter balms, creams, and lotions designed to numb, soothe, or confuse pain receptors to ease discomfort. Some topicals are specially designed for neuropathic pain, while others contain NSAIDs or lidocaine medications. There are also many natural topicals from plants, herbs, and spices.
- Lifestyle changes: Smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and obesity can all have a detrimental effect on arthritis in the feet. Making the necessary lifestyle changes so that you don’t aggravate your condition can be very helpful.
- Rest: Never underestimate the importance of taking it easy. If you have foot pain that’s making it difficult to walk, then consider getting off your feet for a period of time. Sometimes just allowing the body to heal itself is all that’s needed to feel better.
Dealing Arthritis One Step at a Time
If you think you may be developing a form of arthritis in your feet, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider or podiatry expert so that you know what to look for and what to expect.
They may want to review your medical history and get X-rays or MRIs of your feet. If you’ve already been diagnosed with an arthritis condition, there are ways to manage the pain and discomfort.
Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle – OrthoInfo | AAOS
Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle – OrthoInfo | AAOS