Living with Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the most common causes of disability and discomfort in the world. Literally meaning “joint inflammation,” it can result from several different kinds of conditions. Often, the feet and ankles are among the body parts most severely affected, which is why podiatrists are experts in arthritis care. The exact treatments will vary according to the cause of a particular case, but there are some general principles that most patients should incorporate into their lives.
Two Common Types of Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder caused by the immune system attacking synovium, the lining of the joints. Swollen synovium stretches tendons and ligaments, with the small joints of the toes often being the first to become deformed. Rheumatism’s causes have remained elusive, but it has a genetic component and is often triggered by viruses and bacteria. Recent evidence linked it to acid produced by oral bacteria that causes protein deformities, which the immune system reacts to by overproducing antibodies.
Osteoarthritis describes the breakdown of cartilage that lubricates and cushions joint bones. As the gaps between bones shrink, the bones develop growths called spurs that irritate the surrounding tissue. Osteoarthritis is slow to develop and is worsened by overuse of damaged joints. It seems to originate in problems with the production of collagen, the protein that makes up cartilage. Joints that had previously been injured are especially likely to become arthritic, as are those that have been used frequently.
Maintaining a Normal Life
A podiatrist will be interested in determining which type of arthritis is affecting a patient, but the patient’s day-to-day lifestyle changes will often be similar. The patient will be advised to avoid high-impact activities that worsen wear-and-tear while increasing activities that promote flexibility. Cycling and swimming are often recommended as ways for patients to remain active and potentially shed excess weight that is putting increased pressure on their joints. Physical therapists may prescribe toe stretches with resistance bands or marbles, but patients should inform their care provider if they are experiencing severe pain.
People with podiatry-related issues are commonly prescribed customized orthotic devices. Shoe inserts can correct joints that have already become deformed. Custom-fitted ankle braces may be prescribed for people to wear during flare-ups. Patients may also massage their feet with tennis balls or specialized gadgets to reduce tendon and ligament tension.
Doctors can provide temporary pain relief by injecting patients with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some of which can also be taken orally. They are more commonly prescribed to younger people. If a patient’s arthritis is advanced, a podiatrist may recommend surgery to fuse foot bones together or replace them with implants. A less invasive procedure is to remove damaged material through a small incision with the guidance of a surgical camera. This will smooth down bone spurs and eliminate free-floating flakes of bone that are triggering inflammation. Less common forms of arthritis may be treated with specialized medications, such as uric acid blockers for gout. Smoking and alcohol should be avoided. Patients are also often advised to undergo psychological counseling or to study meditation or yoga in order to maintain a more resilient and positive mindset, in addition to medical treatments.
This newsletter/website is not intended to replace the services of a doctor. It does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. Information in this newsletter/website is for informational purposes only & is not a substitute for professional advice. Please do not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating any condition.