How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Feet (and What to Do About It)

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Feet (and What to Do About It)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects 1.5 million people in the United States, and women outpace men by 2-3 times. This form of arthritis can strike any joint in your body, but it tends to favor certain areas, such as your feet and ankles. In fact, more than 90% of people with RA develop symptoms in their feet and ankles at some point.

As foot and ankle specialists, our team of podiatrists at Neuhaus Foot and Ankle is well-versed in the forms of arthritis that can strike your lower appendages, including RA.

In the following article, we explore how RA affects your feet and ankles and what we can do to help you move more freely.

Rheumatoid arthritis and your feet

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and RA falls into the autoimmune and inflammatory categories. With RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial membranes that line your joints, causing inflammation and pain.

As the disease progresses, RA can irreparably damage joints in your body, leading to loss of function and deformity.

In many cases, RA first makes itself known in your smaller joints, such as those in your hands and feet. In 20% of people with RA, foot and ankle symptoms are the first indicators of a problem.

The first signs of RA are pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints in your feet and ankles. These mimic other forms of arthritis, but what differentiates RA is that the symptoms develop in equal measure in the same joints in both feet and ankles. 

As RA progresses, it can cause bones in your feet to shift, leading to collapsed arches and flatfeet. The damage that RA can inflict is most acute in your toes as bunionshammertoes, and pain under the balls of your feet often develop together.

Treating your RA and your feet and ankles

If you’re diagnosed with RA, it’s essential to work with your rheumatologist on treating the condition. While there’s no cure for RA, there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease.

For our part, we can work with you to minimize the impact that RA can have on your feet and ankles. If you have symptoms in your feet, our first line of defense is custom orthotics to help ease the pressure on certain areas of your feet. We can also supply you with an ankle brace if your ankles are affected.

Corticosteroid injections may also help in relieving pain and inflammation.

If the RA advances and causes deformities, we offer surgical solutions that can correct problems in your forefeet, such as bunions and hammertoes. We can also turn to joint fusion surgery to eliminate the joint and make just one bone.

In more severe cases of RA, we offer total or partial ankle replacement surgery, a procedure in which we replace damaged parts of your joint with artificial ones to restore your mobility.

Clearly, early intervention when you have RA is essential in helping prevent or slow the damage. So, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with RA, we suggest coming to see us so we can put together a treatment plan that will best preserve your mobility. 

To get started, contact one of our offices in Hermitage, Brentwood, Nashville, Mount Juliet, Waverly, Smyrna, Gallatin, Columbia, Pulaski, Hendersonville, or Lebanon, Tennessee, to schedule an appointment.

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