Arthritis is a disease that affects most of us in our lifetime. The most common type of arthritis is osteo (bone). As we age, the chance of developing wear and tear osteoarthritis, increases. The joint damage associated with this arthritis causes swelling, pain, and deformity of the feet and ankles. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and fibromyalgia are all other more common forms of arthritis. This blog will focus on Osteoarthritis.

What Is Osteoarthritis (OA)?
Arthritis (arthro = joint, itis = inflammation) is a term used to describe a group of over 100 diseases characterized by inflammation in the joints or other areas of the body. Inflammation is a medical term that describes pain, stiffness, redness, and swelling. Left unchecked, inflammation can lead to significant and often irreparable damage to the affected areas resulting in loss of function and disability. Osteoarthritis can involve almost any part of the body. Most often it affects weight-bearing joints but also can be found in the fingers, toes and other non-weight-bearing joints. Arthritis is a chronic condition. It can affect people on an ongoing, constant or recurring basis over months, years, or even a lifetime. Arthritis affects everyone differently so treatment planning should be tailored to individual needs with guidance from members of the treatment team (e.g. Orthopaedic surgeon, rheumatologist, family doctor, pedorthist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist etc.).

How Does Osteoarthritis Affect the Foot and Ankle?
Each foot has 26 bones and more than 30 joints. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments work together with the many joints of the foot to control motion. This smooth motion makes it possible for a person to walk. When you develop arthritis in the foot, pain and limited motion occurs so that your walking pattern (gait) is affected.

What Are the Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis?
Symptoms of foot and ankle osteoarthritis often include:

  • Tenderness or pain
  • Reduced ability to move, walk, or bear weight
  • Stiffness in the joint especially in the mornings
  • Swelling in the joint
  • Redness or heat

How Is Foot and Ankle Arthritis Diagnosed?
To diagnose arthritis in your ankles or feet your doctor will examine your feet or ankles. You will have imaging to show exactly where the arthritis is. The diagnosis of foot and ankle arthritis may involve:

  • A medical history
  • Physical exam
  • X-rays
  • MRI or CT scans
  • Blood work

How Is Foot and Ankle Osteoarthritis Treated by a Pedorthist? (non-surgical methods)
Foot and ankle osteoarthritis can be treated in many ways. Pedorthist’s treatment include:

  • Foot orthotics (custom-made or off-the-shelf) to support the joints and help ease the pain
  • Orthopaedic footwear (off-the-shelf or custom-made) is the most essential element of foot care for people with foot and ankle arthritis
  • Custom shoes for the more advanced arthritic feet
  • Pads or arch supports
  • Off-loading braces designed for arthritis relief

How Can Custom-made Orthotics Help?
Making good shoe choices can prevent problems. However, for those who are already suffering, custom-made or off-the-shelf orthotics are designed to ease foot pain and correct structural issues. Orthotics may provide much needed relief to correct gait and help with structural abnormalities. Orthotics re-distribute weight and relieve pressure on sensitive areas of the feet. They can provide cushioning that reduces the stress of the biomechanical load on the feet.

The following are things to look for in finding a comfortable orthopaedic shoe:

  • Shoes shaped like your foot (consider width and depth)
  • Shoes that have support -- for example, no slip-on shoes. Use shoes that fasten with laces, Velcro or buckles
  • Soft leather uppers or materials that will mold around deformities or sensitive areas
  • Wide, deep, square toe-boxes with no seams over hammer toes or other sensitive areas to avoid pressure on painful joints
  • Rubber soles to provide more cushioning
  • Proper fit - ask the salesperson to help you with this. A sales person will use a brannock to measure both feet. If one foot is larger or wider than the other, buy a size that fits the larger foot.
  • Make sure there is 1/4-inch width between the end of the shoe and your longest toe to prevent pressure and friction at the toes
  • Get measured every time you buy new shoes
  • Buy shoes later in the day while feet are at their largest