Rheumatoid arthritis in the foot and ankle is a chronic disease that causes painful inflammation of the joints in the foot and ankle. The inflammation can become so severe and painful that it affects the appearance and function of the lower extremities. This disease usually begins in the small joints of the hands and feet, while affecting the same joints on either side of the body. More than 90% of people afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis will develop symptoms in the foot and ankle throughout the course of the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune disease, which means it causes the immune system to attack its own tissues and bones. The joints in your body are covered with a lining known as the synovium. This lining lubricates the joints to allow them to move easily through the lining. Rheumatoid arthritis in the foot and ankle attacks the lining and causes inflammation and swelling throughout the entire area. It damages the joints, the surrounding tissue and the ligaments supporting the affected joints. These weakened or destroyed ligaments can cause joint deformities in the feet, such as hammer toe or claw toe. Softening of the surrounding bones can lead to stress fractures and eventually the total collapse of the affected bone.
Rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle not only destroys the joints and surrounding tissue, it can damage the corresponding blood vessels and nerves as well. In about 20% of patients, foot and ankle symptoms are the first sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle Symptoms
The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle are pain, swelling and stiffness in the affected area. The symptoms also appear in both feet, typically affecting the same joint in both. Broken down by affected areas of the foot and ankle, symptoms include:
Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle Causes
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle is unknown. Women are affected more than men, with a ratio of about 3 to 1. Symptoms of this disease usually develop after the age of 40. There may be a genetic factor, as some people seem to be more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis because of family heredity. Doctors suspect that a chemical or environmental factor triggers the disease in people who have a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle depend upon the side effects from the disease and range from bracing, medication and injections to surgical reconstruction.
The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Foot and Ankle Services in New York treats rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle as well as a broad range of foot and ankle conditions that can occur at any stage of life.
The Rehabilitation Network of the North Shore-LIJ Health System is dedicated to providing you and your family with result-oriented, comprehensive rehabilitation services. Our goal is to help you and your loved ones find relief from pain and get moving again after an accident, illness, injury or surgery. We’re your partner in a safe, healthy, more rapid recovery.