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Arthritis, in general terms, is inflammation and swelling of the cartilage and lining of the joints. If the feet seem more susceptible to arthritis than other parts of the body, it is because each foot has 33 joints that can be afflicted and there is no way to avoid the pain of the body’s tremendous load on the feet.

Arthritis is a disabling disease that afflicts almost 40 million Americans. People from infancy to middle age are potential victims, with people over 50 most prone to arthritis.

Arthritic symptoms can arise in a number of ways:

  • Through injuries, especially if the injuries have been ignored.
  • Through bacterial and viral infections that strike the joints.
  • In conjunction with bowel disorders such as colitis, frequently resulting in arthritic conditions in the joints of the toes and ankles.
  • As a result of taking either prescription or illicit drugs.

At Southeastern Foot & Ankle, we see many cases of arthritic feet. This painful condition can result in loss of mobility and independence, but early diagnosis and proper medical care can help significantly.

Types of arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is frequently called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. Its onset is generally gradual: aging brings on a breakdown in cartilage, and pain gets progressively more severe. Dull, throbbing nighttime pain is characteristic.

Osteoarthritis becomes a particular problem for the feet when people are overweight. The additional weight contributes to the deterioration of cartilage and the development of bone spurs.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) isperhaps the most serious form of arthritis. It is a complex, chronic inflammatory disease that often affects multiple smaller joints. It may also affect other systems of the body, such as the eyes, lungs, heart and nervous system. Women are three to four times more likely than men to suffer with RA.

This disease is characterized by alternating periods of remission, during which symptoms disappear, and exacerbation, marked by the return of inflammation, stiffness and pain.

Gout (gouty arthritis) is a condition caused when the salts of uric acid – a normal byproduct of the diet – build up in the joints. A rich diet containing lots of red meat, shellfish and rich sauces is commonly associated with gout, and a single big toe joint is commonly the affected area. Attacks of gouty arthritis – an extremely painful occurrence – are more common with men than with women.

Symptoms of arthritis

If you experience any of the following symptoms of arthritis in your feet, it’s important to see a doctor of podiatric medicine as soon as possible:

  • Swelling in one or more joints.
  • Recurring pain or tenderness in any joint.
  • Redness or heat in a joint.
  • Limitation of motion of a joint.
  • Early morning stiffness.
  • Skin changes, including rashes and growths.

Early diagnosis of arthritis is important to effective treatment. If the inflammation caused by arthritic disease isn’t treated, both cartilage and bone can be damaged, which makes the joints increasingly difficult to move. Such damage is not reversible.

Objectives for the treatment of arthritis include controlling inflammation, preserving joint function (or restoring it if it has been lost) and curing the disease if possible. Because the foot frequently exhibits early symptoms of arthritis, the doctor of podiatric medicine is often the first physician to encounter these complaints.

Arthritis may be treated in many ways. Physical therapy and exercise may be indicated, as well as medications. A podiatrist can help control foot functions with shoe inserts called orthotics, or with braces or specifically prescribed shoes. Surgical intervention is another option; damaged joints can be replaced surgically with artificial joints.

Not all types of arthritis are preventable, but all can be relieved with the proper medical care and sometimes through a patient’s behavior changes. Gout, for example, can often be controlled by making changes to your diet.

Osteoarthritis may be helped by correcting any faulty mechanics that lead to the joint not moving properly. Custom orthotics from your podiatrist will make sure that the foot and ankle joints are properly aligned.

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