On an average day, a person can walk between four to six thousand steps. Daily, the force exerted on the feet can add up to hundreds of tons. Over the years the feet can end up taking an incredible beating that will lead to feet problems in the elderly, especially in people with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, in many people with rheumatoid arthritis, foot pain tends to be a direct result of the disease. Studies have shown that as many as ninety percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis have reported severe pain and stiffness in their feet.
Fortunately, this condition is treatable, although in advanced cases surgery may be necessary to help the patient to maintain mobility.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Foot Pain in Seniors
Rheumatoid arthritis will cause swelling and inflammation of the membranes that line the joints. These joints are known as synovium joints. This type of inflammatory process can destroy and erode the joints over time, including the joints in the ankles and feet.
The symptoms of arthritic inflammation in the feet often includes warmth in the joints of one or both feet, stiffness, swelling, and tenderness. The smaller phalangeal joints of the toes are probably affected the most commonly.
Unfortunately, the ankle joint may also be affected and can make walking uphill or up and down stairs difficult.
Changes in Mobility
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the surrounding tissues and ligaments that support the joints. Stretched and weakened ligaments can contribute to joint deformities and can cause the feet to become unstable. Deformities can include hammer toes in which the toe curls or bends downward instead of pointing forward, claw toe, which consists of a bend in the middle of the big toe, or bunions which are bony, painful bumps on the big toe.
Severe damage to joints in the foot can also cause it to collapse which will result in Charcot foot. Damage to the joints can also cause valgus heel in which the heel is pushed forward.
When this type of deformity occurs, your doctor will recommend a walking assistance device such as a walker, in order to help reduce your risk of falling in the event you begin to experience significant pain and difficulty with ambulation.
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Not only can rheumatoid arthritis cause major joint issues in the feet, it can also cause bursa sac to form. A bursa is a type of sac that’s filled with fluid. When the sacs become inflamed they are very painful, making it difficult to walk or in severe cases, even to stand. Bursa sacs are often found on the balls of the feet.
Friction caused by a lack of cartilage in the joints can create rheumatoid nodules, which often form over the bony protrusions, the pad of the heel, and the Achilles tendon. The development of calluses and corns are also common. Corns and calluses are hard painful areas that have thicker skin at the pressure points.
Plantar fascia inflammation in the soles of the feet will cause intense pain under the heel. This type of pain will occur when a person first takes a step after several hours of sitting.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain in the Feet
These foot deformities and intense pain may not appear for several years and are more likely to develop in people who smoke are people who are obese. In some people, issues with the feet can be an early sign of the disease.
Because all adults will complain of foot pain at some point in their life, pinpointing the root cause can be very difficult. There are many non-rheumatoid arthritis related foot problems that can cause similar pain such as gout and neuromas. Additionally, the swelling found around or in the toes can be difficult to see during an exam.
Treatment for arthritis in the feet usually consists of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologics, and corticosteroids. Physicians will often recommend over the counter NSAIDs for mild cases, in addition to steroid injections designed to help minimize inflammation.
In severe cases, surgery may be needed. But surgery is often only used as a last resort since this type of surgery comes with a higher risk of infections and a lower success rate, especially in patients who are significantly overweight.
Is Prevention Possible?
There are many things you can do to improve your joint health during your life, but most people don’t decide to take action until later on in life when the symptoms become severe. One of the best joint tips a doctor will recommend is staying active, losing weight if you’re more than ten pounds overweight, and avoiding foods that can cause inflammation.
Working out regularly can help to reduce inflammation, improve blood circulation and can prevent stiffness in the joints.
Elderly Low-Impact Exercise Options
Most doctors can agree that some form of low-impact activity is necessary in order to manage rheumatoid arthritis. Of course, seniors will not have the same type of mobility they once did, but low-impact exercises are gentle on the joints and can be the perfect solution for people who are trying to both lose weight and improve joint health.
Swimming, any type of water aerobics, and short walks can all be great ways to improve joint health.