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The Affect of Rheumatoid Arthritis on Your Feet

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a severe form of arthritis that we see every day in the clinic.  The new medications that rheumatoid arthritis suffers can take these days has reduced the deformities from this disease, but feet still bear the brunt of the deformities. When I first started working over 30 years ago, the foot deformities from rheumatoid arthritis were quite devastating and debilitating. I saw patients whose feet were so deformed, and the joints were starting to fuse together, that their feet were literally just a bag of bones.  Walking on these feet was almost impossible for these people, but they still managed to get around, but in a lot of pain.

The main deformities we see in rheumatoid arthritis are:
  1. Bunions – here the big toe is deformed and sometimes ulcerates due to the skin being very fragile over this joint, and the joint being so enlarged.
  2. Clawed toes – we often see toes clawing or crossing over each other, so that finding shoes that don’t rub almost impossible.
  3. Nerve damage – the deformed joints can cause nerve damage in the feet.
Podiatry can help rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in many ways:
  1. Through general footcare – simple debridement of corns and calluses can reduce the pain substantially for rheumatoid feet. These feet will often have abnormal wear and tear on particular areas of the foot, like on the ball of the foot, or they have clawed toes that develop corns. Debriding these areas is a quick and easy way of making them pain free.
  2. Custom orthotics – here we can make a device to go into shoes that will deflect around the painful areas (like the ball of the foot), and cushion the rest of the foot. Many rheumatoid arthritis suffers will see that the fat pad under their feet (in particular the ball of the foot and the heel) thins out, leaving bones and joints without natural cushioning. Not all custom orthotics are hard, we prescribe according to the foot type and the deformities.
  3. Prescribe appropriate footwear – as we know not all shoes are the same. People with rheumatoid arthritis need very specific shoes that will accommodate their feet.
  4. Surgery – the surgical techniques today have improved immeasurably since I first graduated. This is usually our last resort, but the success rate has dramatically improved in reducing the pain and cosmetic appearance of rheumatoid feet.

We have a podiatric surgeon, Dr Ozan Amir consults every fortnight at our clinic. He is the best person to see if you have any questions or suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and need some help with your feet. Call us on 9542 3491 to see Oz.

Til next time

The Team at Sutherland Podiatry Centre

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