How to Banish Rheumatoid Arthritis-Related Foot Pain

When you have rheumatoid arthritis—or any other type of rheumatic disease—you’re more prone to developing foot issues. But you don’t have to live in pain; read on to find relief!

Jean Weiss

Pain offender: bunions
This unsightly bump is caused by a bone that sticks out from the side of your big toe joint—and it’s a common cause of foot pain. A recent study in Arthritis Care & Research found that a little over a third of people with osteoarthritis (OA) have a bunion, and the bigger the bunion, the worse the pain and disability—which can be significant, considering the big toe joint carries a lot of the body’s weight while walking.

Pain reliever: a bunion splint, and shoes with a wider toe box
If you still have mobility in your toe joint:
A bunion splint can realign your toe and ease the pain by removing pressure from the joint, says Marlene Reid, MD, DPM, president of the Illinois Podiatric Medical Association. “A splint can’t permanently fix the problem,” she notes, “but there are additional things you can do to help, such as wearing shoes with a wider toe box.” You can also ask your healthcare provider about custom orthotics—shoe inserts made especially for your feet.

But if your toe joint isn’t flexible: Ask your healthcare provider about using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs—or if your pain flare-ups are really bad, you can ask about getting cortisone shots in the toe joint. Surgery may be another option, Dr. Reid says, noting that it can work for someone who is healthy overall, relatively young and has good circulation.

Alert! Your joints might not be your foot-pain culprit
Don’t automatically blame arthritis, bunions or bent toes for your foot pain. Here are other common causes that require a visit to your healthcare provider.

  • Soft-tissue injury: This happens when your ligaments or tendons have been strained or torn.
  • Bone spur fracture: Small pieces of an enlarged bone can break off and create pain in your foot—such as a spur that has grown on a bunion because of abnormal wear and tear.
  • Compressed or entrapped nerves: Nerves in your foot can get squeezed or stuck between parts of bone or scar tissue, creating pressure and pain.
  • Bursitis: Sometimes the fluid-filled sac—known as a bursa—that lies near a joint and acts as cushioning becomes inflamed. This could happen as a result of arthritis, injury, infection or overuse of the joint or tendons in that area.
April 2013