Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle | Rheumatology | Loyola Medicine

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Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Overview and Facts about Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Arthritis is an orthopedic condition characterized by inflammation in one or more joints, such as the knee, wrist or elbow, and the joints’ surrounding tissues. The cartilage within your joints provides a cushion for the bones, making the joint movement more comfortable. However, once inflammation causes the cartilage to deteriorate, the bones within the joints begin to rub against each other, causing pain and discomfort. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes pain in the foot and ankle in the majority of cases.

Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

The most common sign of rheumatoid arthritis is pain in the ankles and/or various parts of the foot, such as the toes, heel bone, and mid-foot bones. Swelling and stiffness in those regions can also occur, leading to loss of joint function and/or movement.

Other signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Tenderness in both feet and ankles
  • Joint deformities, such as hammertoe or claw toe
  • Damage to the synovium, the lining of the joints that lubricates and facilitates joint movement
  • Joint softening in the ankles and feet
  • The presence of stress fractures in the ankle and foot bones

Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s own immune system attacks its tissues. With rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the joint tissue and cartilage, causing damage to and pain in those areas. The exact causes of rheumatoid arthritis are unknown. Women are three times more likely to develop the disease than men. Individuals over the age of 40 are also more likely to develop the disease.

Other causes and risk factors include:

  • Exposure to chemical environmental factors that may cause inflammation
  • A genetic predisposition for rheumatoid arthritis
  • A family history of rheumatoid arthritis

Tests and Diagnosis of Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

A doctor first performs a physical exam and evaluates medical history to determine whether rheumatoid arthritis is present. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans, allow doctors to observe and assess the extent and location of damage in the feet and ankles. A primary care doctor typically provides a referral to a specialist physician called a rheumatologist for a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.

Treatment and Care for Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle

You and your doctor can control and manage rheumatoid arthritis in many ways. Medications such as steroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help patients manage pain and inflammation. Surgery can correct the pain and discomfort caused by joint deformities.

Other methods used to treat or manage rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Weight management
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Pads, inserts, and arch supports for the feet and ankles
  • Canes or braces that reduce pressure on the joints while walking or moving
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the damaged joints