Osteoarthritis in the Feet
How many people have heard someone say, "Oh my aching back!" (Or maybe you’ve said it yourself?) We’ve shunned exercise because our knees hurt. We avoid a certain movement because our shoulder is sore. Often, these joints are hurting because of osteoarthritis — the most common form of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage breaks down and the bones begin to move against each other.
But what about sore feet? What if our aching feet is caused by osteoarthritis, and maybe not by those silly shoes that we’re wearing?
Theoretically, this is a possibility — osteoarthritis can occur in any joint.
Osteoarthritis symptoms do not occur suddenly; symptoms that occur due to osteoarthritis occur gradually and may worsen over time. Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- Pain in the affected joint, especially during or after movement
- Stiffness in the affected joint, especially in the morning or after a period of inactivity
- Tenderness at the joint when applying light pressure
- Reduction in flexibility
- A grating sensation noted during movement (popping may also be heard during movement)
- Bone spurs may develop; bone spurs are extra bits of bone around the joint
- Swelling may be noted around the joint (swelling is caused by inflammation)
Specific symptoms that may be noted if osteoarthritis is suspected in the feet are:
Osteoarthritis is typically caused by deterioration of the cartilage that surrounds the joints. This is often due to “wear and tear”; when the joint is used frequently, the cartilage is more likely to be worn down, causing osteoarthritis.
Other factors that may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis include:
- Increasing age
- Women are more likely than men to develop osteoarthritis
- Being obese increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis because extra weight causes additional pressure on the joints (fat also produces proteins that can cause inflammation)
- Frequent joint injuries from sports can increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis
- Bone deformities
- Certain metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and hemochromatosis
Osteoarthritis of the Feet
Osteoarthritis is certainly not uncommon in the feet. Why? Each foot has 28 joints — that is a lot of territory that osteoarthritis can occur in.
As we know, osteoarthritis can occur in any joint. However, osteoarthritis is undoubtedly most common in the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP), which is the joint that connects the big toe to the foot. It may also occur in the midfoot and the ankle.
It is also common for other types of arthritis to occur in the foot. For example, rheumatoid arthritis will likely occur in bilateral foot joints. Gout commonly occurs in the big toe. Psoriatic arthritis causes pain in the toes, as well as significant swelling; it may also present similar to plantar fasciitis.
Treatment Options for Osteoarthritis in the Feet
There are various treatment modalities that are recommended to treat osteoarthritis that occurs in the feet.
Pain medications may be recommended. Healthcare providers may recommend a combination of over the counter and prescription medications to treat pain and inflammation. Nonsteroidal-anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) not only reduce pain, but they block production of prostaglandins. These medications may be prescribed on a short-term basis because they may increase the risk of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal issues. Prescription Voltaren gel may be prescribed, which is an anti-inflammatory gel that is less likely to be absorbed systemically.
Wearing proper shoes is recommended. According to CreakyJoints.org, "Proper fit is a key factor in how foot-friendly shoes are. Besides having to accommodate an arthritic joint that may have stiffness, swelling, and contracture, shoes need to fit the hammertoes and bunions that often happen along with arthritis."
Losing weight is recommended for those who are carrying extra pounds. Even a five to 10% reduction in weight has been shown to reduce joint pain and improve the ability to exercise. Carrying extra weight places extra weight on the joints and causes additional unnecessary inflammation.
Exercise as often as possible. The goal is 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Though this may seem daunting with chronic pain, exercise helps to maintain joint function, reduce pain, increase energy, reduce stiffness and facilitate weight loss. If 150 minutes per week seems like a difficult goal, start small; break the 150 minutes into small segments and work upwards towards the goal.