Feet and ankles are formed by numerous bones, muscles, and connective tissues. These respective tissues form joints at various points to allow for optimal movement and flexibility in our lower limbs. When a toe, foot, or ankle joint becomes stiff and pained, it can be difficult for you to perform favorite activities. At the office of Yuko Miyazaki, DPM, we provide an array of treatment methods to help relieve symptoms of the various arthritic conditions.
Understanding Foot and Ankle Joints and Arthritis
Wherever two bones meet is called a joint. Moving joints in your feet and ankles allow you to bend, straighten, flex, and push off the ground to walk, so they are vital for your mobility and independence. Like moving parts in a machine, joints need protective, lubricating substances between the bones to reduce friction and allow each part to move smoothly. Cartilage caps and pouches of fluids serve this purpose. They protect the bones as you move around, so you don’t feel pain while performing normal daily motions, like taking a step.
Sometimes, however, joints deteriorate. They sustain damage from injuries, get infected, or simply wear down after years of pounding and overuse. This leads to inflammation, often causing joint breakdown. Bone grinds on bone, deteriorating all the tissues. This is arthritis.
The word “arthritis” is actually a general term for a couple different diseases. All of them are progressive and can take away your mobility and independence. In your feet, any of the bones can develop arthritic damage, though the big toe and the ankle tend to be particularly vulnerable.
Types of Arthritis in Feet and Ankles
There are several types of arthritis that can develop in feet and ankles, including:
- Osteoarthritis – When people hear the word “arthritis,” this is the condition they typically think about. Osteoarthritis is the “wear and tear” version most people with arthritis develop over years of repeated stress and use. Slowly, this overuse causes cartilage to deteriorate, allowing the bone tissue underneath to grind directly on another bone. This friction causes increasing pain, irritation, and makes movement more difficult. The more the affected bones rub together, the worse the problem becomes.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – Whereas osteoarthritis simply develops from natural wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune system disorder. In this condition, the body’s immune system begins attacking the protective joint linings. At this time, medical experts are unsure as to why RA happens.
- Gout – This arthritic condition is unique in the fact it is caused by dietary choices. The core issue with gout—which causes sharp, stabbing pain in the joint where the big toe connects to the foot—is a buildup of uric acid in the bloodstream. Uric acid is a normal byproduct of food breakdown at the cellular level. It is normally filtered out through the kidneys and expelled in urine. When too much is in the bloodstream, or the kidneys do not filter it properly, the acid deposits into joints—especially the one at the base of the big toe—and crystalizes. These urate crystals have sharp points, which are the source of the sharp pain. Making different dietary choices can be beneficial for managing and preventing the condition from developing.
- Post-traumatic Arthritis – This disease develops after a serious injury that damaged the bones in a joint, like a fracture or a dislocation. The injury disrupts the tissue and creates inflammation. This damages the structures even more. Even if the injury heals, the protective surfaces over your bones are more likely to allow grinding.
Arthritis Treatment Options
Naturally, the specific form of arthritis and its severity will be used to determine what is included in an effective treatment plan. Physical therapy (exercise), medication, hot and cold therapy, and assistive devices (walkers, canes, etc.) all can play a role in conservative care.
Unfortunately there’s no cure for arthritis (yet), but there are various measures you can take to help manage the condition and find relief from symptoms. Rest, ice, and over-the-counter medications are all beneficial, but other options include:
- Making different footwear choices. You should look for shoes that feature plenty of space for wiggling toes, ample shock-absorbing cushioning for aching heels, and robust support for stiff arches. Rocker-bottom soles, or even arch support inserts, can be helpful.
- Try stretches and exercises for your feet. Getting your feet in shape can help strengthen muscles that support the joints and protect against more wear and tear. You may find that toe, Achilles tendon, and calf stretches are quite helpful.
- Switch to low-impact activity when pain strikes. Lots of high-impact sports, or even just a lot of running and walking, can put lots of stress on your lower limbs. Incorporating activities like cycling or swimming into your routine can give you a great workout without the constant pounding on your feet and ankles.
- Get a massage. Regularly kneading any trouble spots—working from the balls of your feet to the heels—can help improve range of motion, reduce arthritis pain and stiffness, and improve blood flow.
Our hope is to effectively care for arthritic conditions through the use of nonsurgical treatment, but there are instances where surgery is necessary. Most often, this entails either joint replacement or joint fusion to address the condition and provide relief.
If you would like additional information on arthritis and how it can affect your feet and ankles, or if you need to schedule an appointment for diagnosis and treatment, contact the office of Yuko Miyazaki, DPM and we will be glad to help. Call us at 510-647-3744 or use our online form to contact our Berkeley, CA office.