As an inflammatory autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis can damage your feet by eroding the joints. Over time, this erosion can leave your feet swollen, cause pain when walking, weaken the surrounding ligaments and change the alignment of your feet. Those with rheumatoid arthritis are susceptible to the following three conditions as a result of joint and ligament damage:
Inflammation can cause scar tissue to form around the tendon that links your heel to your calf muscles. Your Achilles tendon enables you to flex your foot, and when it's damaged, you will experience restricted movement and pain when using your foot. Achilles tendinopathy is diagnosed by a podiatrist who will ask you to carry out a series of simple exercises and assess the range of movement in your foot.
The condition can be treated by reducing the inflammation with medication, such as corticosteroids, and performing daily stretching and strengthening exercises to loosen the tendon. The podiatrist will show you appropriate exercises, such as calf and toe stretches, and work with you to develop an exercise plan that's manageable for you.
When the joints in your feet suffer erosion, they aren't able to offer the support your tendons and ligaments need to retain the structure of your feet. This causes the arches of your feet to collapse and your ligaments to spread out. Collapsed arches cause foot pain and back pain, as those affected tend to alter their posture to compensate for the change to the structure of their feet.
Treating flat feet involves providing additional support to your arches, and custom-made orthotic insoles can be used to raise the arches and ease the pressure on your feet. Your podiatrist will measure you for insoles that slip into your regular shoes and improve the way your weight is distributed, which can ease pain and reduce inflammation.
When the middle joint of your toe is damaged by rheumatoid arthritis, strain on the tendons can cause the joint to be pulled upwards, which then leads to your toe curling under. This makes walking difficult and leaves you susceptible to calluses and corns as the affected toe rubs on the inside of your shoes. In addition to a physical exam, your podiatrist will use x-rays of the affected toes to make their diagnosis and assess the extent of the damage.
Depending on the x-ray results, treatment can include exercises to encourage the toe joints to loosen and flatten out and the use of toe regulators to hold your toes straight. A toe regulator is simply a thin sole that fits under your toes and has strips of soft material attached that fasten over your toes to hold them in place.