Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition affecting more than a million Americans. Women are nearly three times more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis and the condition often leads to other problems in the body, as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the tissue of the joints, causing chronic inflammation and pain. In some individuals, rheumatoid arthritis can even attack other systems in the body like the skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. The damage is caused by the inflammation brought on by the immune system attack. While advances in medication have done much to combat this painful disease, only the symptoms can be controlled and a person is never really cured of rheumatoid arthritis. If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause severe deformities of the joints and result in physical disabilities.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can vary from person to person but often share some basic characteristics. While some people suffer from constant pain and discomfort, others may experience months or even years of seeming remission before experiencing an increase in disease activity, called a “flare.”
RA is another term for rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that will almost always affect the joints, causing swelling, stiffness, pain, redness, and warmth.
- Stiffness – When the body attacks the lining of the joints, the joints become stiff and don’t move as they should. This is particularly true in the morning. While those who suffer from other types of arthritis have stiffness in their joints in the morning, those with RA will find that it sometimes takes them several hours to feel like their joints have “loosened up.”
- Swelling – The fluid in the joints make the joints swell, making it puffy and tender to the touch. It is this swelling, or inflammation, that causes damage over time.
- Pain – The inflammation in the joints causes the joints to be tender to the touch, painful when using the joints, and even painful when the joints are not in use.
- Redness – As the joints swell, they may look red or discolored as a result of the inflammation.
- Warmth – The inflammation in the joints may cause them to be warm to the touch. Warmth is often an effect of inflammation.
Rheumatoid arthritis most often affects the joints in the hands first, but it can also show up in other parts of the body, including the elbows, feet, hips, jaw, knees, neck, shoulders, wrists, and many other joints in your body.
Other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can include fatigue, fever, poor appetite, feeling bad all over, depression, and muscle aches. Each of these symptoms, however, can also be a sign of other conditions. Only a doctor can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have pain, swelling, and tenderness in your joints for more than a few weeks, consult your doctor and be sure to ask about rheumatoid arthritis.
Risk Factors For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Several factors may affect your likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis. These risk factors include:
- Gender – Women are nearly three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
- Age – While RA can occur at any time, it most frequently affects people in middle age.
- Family History – If members of your immediate or extended family suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, you are more likely to develop the disease yourself.
- Obesity – Being overweight increases the odds of developing rheumatoid arthritis, though the reason for this is not completely understood. Obesity is especially a factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis in women under the age of 55.
- Environmental Factors – While not completely understood yet, certain environmental exposures seem to contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis. These exposures include asbestos or silica. Emergency workers who participated in the work at the World Trade Center after 9/11 have experienced a higher level of auto-immune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Ankles and Feet Problems Due to Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA can affect any joint in the body, causing inflammation, swelling, pain, and, over time, deformity. If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will give you medications to help fight the symptoms of the disease and slow its progression. Once rheumatoid arthritis has taken hold in your feet and ankles, Dr. Kleis can assist your primary RA doctor in finding ways to compensate for the pain and discomfort in your knees, ankles, and feet.
RA Symptoms in Feet
Up to 90% of people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis report having foot problems associated with the disease. In some people, the feet are the first part of the body to show evidence of RA. Rheumatoid arthritis in the feet presents much the same way as in the hands, with swelling, warmth, and pain in the joints. RA symptoms may be present in all of the joints of the feet or only in one or two.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Include:
- Inflammation - Inflammation in the joints of the foot can, in time, result in deformities of the joints and cause difficulty in walking and performing everyday activities. The use of orthotic inserts in a patient’s shoes can help reduce the pressure on certain joints and improve a person’s ability to maintain good foot health in the face of RA.
- Skin and Nail Problems - Another common problem of the feet, among those who suffer from RA, is the development of skin and nail problems.
- Corns and Calluses - As RA changes the shape of the foot, the foot may develop pressure sites that are prone to calluses and corns. If not treated properly, these sites may develop into areas of ulceration. It is important to seek the advice of a certified podiatrist in treating corns and calluses on the feet of a person suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Over the counter medications and home remedies for corns and calluses can result in removing good skin or causing breaks in the skin which can result in a possible site for infection.
- Bunions – Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis are at higher risk of developing bunions, due to the increased toll that RA inflammation takes on the joints.
Dr. Kleis is an expert in treating all conditions of the feet and ankles, including those conditions arising from RA. If you suffer from RA and need assistance in alleviating painful symptoms in the joints of the feet and ankles or treatment for other issues arising from the condition, Dr. Kleis will perform a complete examination and help determine the best course of action for your situation.
Treatments for RA in the feet may include:
- Orthotic Inserts – Inserts may help relieve pressure on specific points on the foot or assist in supporting weakened joints.
- Injections – Anti-inflammatory injections at the site of pain and inflammation can often help reduce the swelling associated with RA and provide relief.
- Low-level Acoustic Therapy or Laser Therapy – Dr. Kleis is a leading expert in the use of laser therapies and acoustic therapy. These non-invasive therapies have been proven to provide relief from symptoms and improved prognosis for a wide range of feet and ankle problems, including those associated with RA.
RA symptoms in Ankles
While it is more common for rheumatoid arthritis to affect the hands and feet, it can also affect the ankles. As with other joints, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints and causes swelling and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis in the ankle can make walking painful and difficult.
Inflammation and stiffness in the ankles joints are a result of the body’s attack on the tissues surrounding the joints. RA causes the cartilage in the ankle to wear down, reducing the padding and smoothness of movement in the bones of the ankle and feet. Over time, this inflammation can cause damage to the bone structure, as well. Walking can become difficult.
If you suffer from RA in your feet or ankles, visit with Dr. Kleis to see how he can help you retain the fullest use of your joints and prevent further damage.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in your ankles may include custom orthotics to support the bone structure and make walking easier. Dr. Kleis may also recommend injectable anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and inflammation at the ankle site. Exercises or physical therapy can help strengthen the surrounding muscles, helping to support weakened joints. Dr. Kles may also recommend low-level laser treatment or acoustic wave therapy. Dr. Kleis is a leading expert in the use of laser and acoustic wave therapies for treating conditions in the feet and ankles.
Surgery for RA in Feet & Ankles
Occasionally, patients with advanced RA or those who do not respond sufficiently to treatments may require surgery. Dr. Kleis will do all he can to help minimize the need for surgery through the use of non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures like orthotics, braces, and laser or acoustic wave therapies.
Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis
This first stage causes swelling in the lining of the affected joint that may produce pain, warmth, redness, and stiffness.
This stage involves rapid cell growth that causes the lining of the affected joints to thicken.
The third stage involves the destruction of bone and cartilage within the joint as inflamed cells release digestive enzymes that break down these tissues. The joint may begin to lose shape and alignment at this stage, resulting in increased pain and loss of mobility.
How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the foot and ankle?
Common symptoms of RA include joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. When RA affects the foot and ankle, you may also experience these conditions:
- Rheumatoid nodules, or painful lumps
- Toe dislocations
- Heel pain
- Ankle pain
- Achilles tendon pain
Any of these conditions may increase the pain and difficulty you experience while walking or wearing shoes. Over time, RA may begin to affect other body systems, including your skin, heart, and blood vessels.
Diagnoses and Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
To diagnose RA, Dr. Kleis begins with a thorough physical exam and review of your medical history. He may also take blood tests or an X-ray to evaluate the extent of your condition.
There’s no cure for RA, but Dr. Kleis carefully develops an individualized treatment plan to reduce your risk of mobility loss and relieve painful symptoms. Depending on your needs, your RA treatment plan may include:
- Wearing accommodative shoes or orthotic devices to make walking easier
- Injections of anti-inflammatory medicines
- Low-level laser treatment and acoustic wave therapy
- Exercises or physical therapy to strengthen and protect affected joints
Dr. Kleis considers every possible treatment before recommending surgery. However, if your RA causes severe pain or deformity that doesn’t improve with treatment, he discusses the best surgical procedure for your specific condition and lifestyle.
If you have symptoms of RA, call (714) 760-4944 or book an appointment online today.