- Each of your feet has 28 bones, more than 30 joints, and hundreds of muscles and tendons held together by ligaments, or flexible, fibrous bands of tissue. When arthritis, or inflammation of the musculoskeletal system, develops in one or more of these many joints, it can make walking and other daily activities painful and difficult.
Arthritis is very common in middle age and we see it often in the foot. During an average day of walking, the total forces on your feet can amount to hundreds of tons. You can imagine how much wear your feet experience over the years, so it’s always important to seek treatment right away when you experience foot pain.
There are three types of arthritis of the foot:
Osteoarthritis – ‘Wear and tear’ arthritis occurs from overuse of joints and becomes more common in middle and older age. In particular, people who were active in their younger years in sports or physical activities may be more prone to osteoarthritis. Swelling, inflammation and pain can show up as smooth cartilage covering the ends of bones becomes worn down. Because there is less and less cushioning for the joint, the joints hurt more. Osteoarthritis generally has a slow progression and may become more prevalent over years.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – This inflammatory condition is actually a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks cartilage and other healthy organs. Rheumatoid arthritis typically is caused by environmental factors or infections. Because it is symmetrical, you will typically experience rheumatoid arthritis in both feet at the same time. Like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can cause swelling, stiffness and pain.
Post-Traumatic Arthritis – Sudden injury to the foot or ankle that results in a fracture, sprain or ligament injury can cause trauma similar to osteoarthritis. Post-traumatic arthritis can also become symptomatic years after the injury has healed.
A family history of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of an individual developing arthritis.
All types of arthritis in the foot tend to flare up with walking, running and even standing, and can be very frustrating. Nonsurgical treatment options for arthritis in the foot can include anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections for temporary relief, orthotics and physical therapy. Surgery is also an option if symptoms do not improve in a reasonable amount of time.
Eric Heckman, PA-C, specializes in Foot and Ankle at OrthoCarolina.