What Is Foot Arthritis?
There are many causes of foot pain, some of them involving the choice of footwear and other lifestyle factors. One of the leading causes, however, is foot arthritis.
Although it is common to associate arthritis with advancing years, there are in fact many different varieties of the disease. Some of them can strike children as young as a few months.
Neither is juvenile arthritis particularly rare. For all these reasons, parents and others would do well to learn about the signs and symptoms of the various kinds of arthritis.
Three Main Kinds of Foot Arthritis
Arthritis can strike at any joint in the body, including the many joints that make up the foot. However, when arthritis of the foot is detected, it is likely due to one of three main forms of the disease: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-injury arthritis (also called post-traumatic arthritis).
This is the most familiar form of the disease, as well as the one that is most associated with the aging process. Classed as a degenerative disease, osteoarthritis rarely strikes people prior to middle age. After that, it may occur and proceed to increasingly debilitating stages.
The main process that takes place during osteoarthritis is that the cartilage becomes worn down or in some cases even shredded. Since cartilage is what covers the ends of our bones in every joint when it wears away the bones begin to contact one another.
This causes a variety of symptoms, with joint pain being the most troublesome for most people; it is not unusual for severe and debilitating joint pain to result.
Another debilitating symptom is joint stiffness. In advanced cases of the disease, joints may have stiffened up to the point where the patient can no longer move them. In extreme cases, it may not be possible for such joints to be manipulated by the exterior pressure of a physician trying to move them. In addition to pain and stiffness, worn-down cartilage can also lead to swelling and inflammation of the affected joint.
The typical pattern for osteoarthritis is for symptoms to gradually worsen over time. There is no cure for the condition, but there are treatment options that may alleviate symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
This form of arthritis has symptoms that are similar to osteoarthritis, but several distinguishing characteristics set it apart from osteoarthritis.
Some common facts about Rheumatoid Arthritis
- It can develop in people of any age, including children. In fact, the author of this article suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis; in her case, the condition was diagnosed when she was just three years old.
- It does not result from the gradual wearing down of cartilage, a process which is in some respects natural. Instead, rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which the body attacks its own cartilage and causes it to partially or in severe cases, wholly disintegrate.
- As an auto-immune disease (a condition in which the body’s own immune system attacks elements of the physical structure of the body), rheumatoid arthritis is considered an inflammatory disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can attack the joints across the whole body, sometimes at once. In contrast, osteoarthritis tends to settle into the joints that have been most physically used over the course of the past decades (for example, the hips).
- Rheumatoid arthritis can attack joints that are rarely used in comparison to other joints. The joints between the vertebrae in the neck are one such example.
Any kind of serious injury can lead to the development of arthritis in the affected joint or joints. Since the foot is one of the most significant weight-bearing areas of the body, injuries there and to the ankle are quite common. As a consequence, arthritis can frequently set into the joints of the foot.
As this type of arthritis is based on physical trauma rather than old age or genetic profile, it can occur to people both young and old. However, joints and bones do heal better in the young than in the old. Therefore, it is more likely that an injury when you are an adult or older will develop into foot arthritis, than one that takes place when you are a teenager or younger.
Symptoms of Foot Arthritis
No matter what sort of foot arthritis is involved, symptoms tend to be similar, though they can vary according to the exact joint or joints affected by the condition. Among the most commonly reported symptoms are:
- Joint pain and tenderness
- Joint stiffness
- Reduced ROM (range of motion)
- Swelling in the joint
- Heat in the joint
Obviously, given the symptoms above, walking may be painful and difficult if not impossible.
A common layman’s “test” for arthritis is to ascertain if the affected joint is hot. The recommended procedure is to place one hand on the affected joint and the other hand on the parallel (hopefully non-affected joint).
For example, one hand is on the base joint of each big toe. Wait at least a minute to gauge the relative temperature of each joint. Then switch hands and repeat the procedure. By doing it this way, you will avoid thinking that a joint is hot when really, the problem is the heat differential between your left and right hands.
What Causes Foot Arthritis?
There are three different ranges of answers to this question, one for each major branch of the condition.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
The main cause of osteoarthritis is unfortunately the aging process itself. Since that is a process that nobody can avoid undergoing, there is no true way to eliminate this risk factor. What happens during the aging process is that cartilage gradually loses the ability to heal itself. As this happens, more and more naturally occurring cartilage damage becomes fixed and permanent.
Physical activity of any kind will stress cartilage and cause it to wear down or even tear, but the younger you are, the more quickly and effectively your body will be able to repair this damage.
The degree of your physical activity when young can have implications for developing osteoarthritis when you are older. In fact, the incidence of this form of arthritis developing in a person’s 50s rather than his 60s or 70s has been linked to high levels of high-impact exercise over the course of a lifetime. Those who jog several miles at a stretch, and do so several times each week, may see arthritis setting into their hips at younger-than-average ages.
However, other factors do play a role in the likelihood that any particular individual will develop osteoarthritis. The genetic factors that govern your chances of developing it are not well understood, but there is a definite link between a family history of this disease and your chances of developing it early, at all, or in its most severe forms.
Additionally, being overweight can increase your risk factor of developing osteoarthritis. Excess weight on the joints causes additional destruction to cartilage every time any damage occurs at all. Those who suffer from osteoarthritis are often enjoined to lose as much weight as possible, and as quickly as possible, until their body mass index reaches a healthy level.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is considered a genetic condition rather than one that is specifically linked to aging or certain physical behaviors. However, it is not a disease that is strictly transmitted through lines of inheritance. If your mother or grandmother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, you may or may not develop the condition yourself.
The best research currently suggests that what is inherited is a gene that makes some people more vulnerable to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Merely possessing this gene does not mean a person will develop the condition; other trigger factors are considered to be necessary. The exact number and nature of possible triggers are still a matter of vigorous debate in the scientific community, but most researchers agree that infections are one trigger while a host of various environmental factors is probably another.
The trigger, once activated, will cause the immune system to begin to regard the cartilage between joints as some kind of invading enemy. Just as the immune system will attack germs and other substances which are foreign to the body, in an auto-immune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system will attack the body itself.
Immune functions are normally a very good thing as they keep us from getting sick. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, however, the immune system has become overactive and is the cause of the condition itself.
Causes of Post-Injury Arthritis
As the name of this condition suggests, the root cause of it is some form of injury to any of the joints in the foot. One major type of injury is a fracture, although fractures that affect only the middle of a bone and not the surface of any joints do not tend to lead to arthritis.
Injury statistics collected over the course of many years indicate that injured joints have a 7-fold increase in the likelihood of developing arthritis, as compared to the same joint that has not been injured.
Part of this is probably due to the body’s natural chemical reaction following a joint injury: your endocrine system will secrete hormones that actually cause the death of cartilage cells. Currently, scientists are still researching why these hormones would be secreted at this time, as it seems counterproductive to the body to have its own systems actively destroying cartilage.
Treatment of Foot Arthritis
Better ways of arthritis pain management are being continuously hunted to bring maximum relief. As the goal is to get relief, sufferers always are in a hurry to try many different arthritis pain management ways so that they know what works best for them.
However, know that if a way is beneficial for one person, it might not be that effective for the other. The main pain management ways are medications, exercises, hydrotherapy, rest, TENS, and surgery.
1. Anti-inflammatory Drugs
These surely are great relievers in case of arthritis pain. However, they carry some potential after-effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding and stomach pain. The most preferred pain medications are Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics, including narcotic painkillers.
These medicines give you some amount of comfort but do not improve the overall state of arthritis. Due to their after-effects, their dosage and duration must be controlled.
2. Get a Soothing Massage
Massage is one of the best arthritis pain management ways to recover from pain, smoothen the stiff and inflamed muscles, and decrease inflammation. With increased circulation and relaxed muscles, the pain subsides.
3. Get Plenty of Rest
Pain is one of the parameters that tell you about the need for rest. You need to heed this signal and let the body rest so that its energy cells get recharged properly. Too much activeness is not good in this pain.
When you rest, it has been proved that inflammation reduces to a considerable extent. But, rest adequately – avoid too much or no rest at all as extreme rest leads to muscle weakness. So, get the balance!
4. Use a Magnetic Ankle Bracelet
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Made from copper, titanium, or real silver, magnetic bracelets possess effective magnetic properties that greatly help arthritis relief. The Magnetic properties increase blood circulation in the ankle region.
5. Stretch your Feet
Daily exercises ensure muscle flexibility, normal function, and less pain. It is always recommended that people with arthritis must always make an exercise plan by consulting their doctors. A few exercises might not be appropriate for people with swollen joints.
A dip in warm water is just the perfect remedy to ease joint pain. Hydrotherapy is nothing but water therapy that greatly aids in reducing stiffness and pain.
Find a foot spa, warm pool, or hot tub where exercising in hot water takes away the burden of pain. Relief is mostly achieved because of the movement and heat given by the body movements and warm water.
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7. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Units
TENS uses a low-voltage stimulation applied to the nerves to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain.
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This electrical charge is given via electrodes instilled in the skin and is useful for treating chronic or intractable pain.
8. Surgery as Last Resort
Surgery is the last choice when no other method works. It aims at discarding pain from a particular joint.
One such common surgery is joint replacement surgery which is feasible too in which the damaged joint is discarded and replaced by a prosthesis. Some more surgical options are arthrodesis (fusion), re-section, synovectomy, and arthroscopy.
Common Warning Symptoms of Foot Arthritis
1. Pain or tenderness in joints: One of the earliest symptoms is pain or tenderness in the affected joints. Such painful joints can acquire many types and forms, such as typical joint pain/tenderness, joint aching, joint swelling, tender joint, and/or swollen joint.
In a national survey of 212,510 adults (over 18 years old) in the United States, arthritis or chronic joint pain, ache, stiffness, or swelling affected one in three adults. Arthritic joint pain is usually not continuous, i.e., it can come and go and is generally associated with the movement of the affected joints.
2. Stiffness in joints: Difficulty in moving the affected joints has been historically associated with arthritis. It is also known as joint stiffness or rigidity, depending on the patient’s condition. Joint stiffness in the morning or after rest, in particular, is a classical sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
3. Swelling in joints: Similarly, joint swelling on examination can most significantly distinguish between inflammatory and non-inflammatory joint disease. Clinically or medically known as “edema,” joint swelling is a typical and common sign of inflammatory arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Patients typically report increased temperature in the painful limb and intermittent redness and swelling on or around the affected joints.
Do flexibility workouts help in arthritis?
Physiotherapists, clinicians, and health care experts have strongly urged, for years, that patients with arthritis regularly practice and perform flexibility exercises to help improve their symptoms and range of motion and reduce some of the pain, rigidity, immobility, and stiffness in the arthritis-affected joints and bones.
For the same reason, the term “flexibility exercises” is often used interchangeably with the words “stretching” workouts or “range of motion exercises.”
Explaining flexibility exercises
By their very definition, flexibility workouts help maintain normal and optimal joint working by enhancing and preserving key joint functions such as flexibility and mobility.
All such exercises aim to gently straighten and bend the joints in a well-controlled motion as far as they comfortably can be. These movements will help condition the swollen, tender joints in arthritis.
Hence, during a standard flexibility exercise, the joints are stretched gradually, slowly, and yet progressively farther (maintaining the convenience level of the user) until the normal or near-normal range is obtained and maintained.
Recommended frequency of flexibility exercises in arthritis
While there is no fixed, single recommended frequency of performing any activities in arthritis, it is generally believed that you should perform flexibility exercises daily.
However, special consideration should be given that not all exercises can be performed with equal comfort by all age groups affected by arthritis. Therefore, any flexible workout should be left exclusively to the user. Any patient, therefore, must take their own time with these exercises and never stretch to the point of pain or difficulty in movements.
Benefits of Flexibility Exercises in Foot Arthritis
These exercises have both a corrective (therapeutic) and a preventive role in arthritis.
- They also work to decrease the psychological and emotional pain associated with chronic, debilitating illnesses such as arthritis.
- These exercises will help reduce your risk of injury and limber up those joints that have been stiffened by arthritis.
- These workouts will also boost your cardiovascular efficiency (pumping and working efficiency of your heart).
- These exercises provide direct and prompt relief of bothersome symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, stiffening, and inflammation.
- They also improve the overall sense of “general well-being” in chronic (long-term) patients with arthritis.
5 Myths About Arthritis
#1: Arthritis is a Temporary, Minor Ailment
Fact: Arthritis is a “major,” severely debilitating chronic disease that often lasts forever (for a lifetime). Also, arthritis is the number 2 crippling disease of Americans after heart disease.
However, fortunately, if diagnosed and managed early and properly, arthritis is a fully controllable and manageable condition.
#2″ Arthritis is the disease of women
Fact: It is, indeed, true that in every age group, the proportion of women who have arthritis is substantially higher than the proportion of men with the condition.
For example, almost two-thirds of all Americans living with arthritis are women in the US alone. However, arthritis is also common in men, and about 18.1 % of men (in every age group) are affected by this problem.
#3: Arthritis is a Single Disease
Fact: While arthritis literally means “joint inflammation,” it is generally used to refer to a family of more than “100 different conditions or disorders” that affect the joints and may also affect muscles and other tissues. The most common of these are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
#4: Arthritis refers to Joint Pain
Fact: While joint pain is perhaps, the most common and influential symptom of arthritis, it is just a “symptom” and not the disease itself. The other common symptoms (signs) of arthritis within a joint include:
#5: Only Older Adults Get Arthritis
Fact: While it is true that, according to the current estimates, more than 50 percent of people over age sixty-five have clinical signs of arthritis, it does not mean this condition does not occur in young or middle-aged people. It can even occur in infants and children.
The terms Idiopathic Arthritis of Childhood (IAC) or Juvenile Arthritis (JA) are well known in the medical community.
Juvenile Arthritis is used as an ‘umbrella’ term for arthritis in childhood and is the diagnosis when the child’s symptoms occur between birth and sixteen years of age.
Similarly, many middle-aged men and women, especially those in their forties and fifties, can also get arthritis problems.
In conclusion, to successfully manage the signs and symptoms of foot arthritis and completely control its further progress, it is essential to understand arthritis as a disease properly. Differentiating between myths and facts is, therefore, necessary for everyone.
Once you know the difference between these myths and facts, you can regain your mobility, activity, and active lifestyle and also prevent any complications of arthritis in the future.