Patients who attend the Foot Health Podiatry Centre often ask questions about arthritis. Here we attempt to answer some of the more common questions asked by patients attending the Centre.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis means inflammation of joints. There are different types of arthritis and these can broadly be divided into two categories:
- Osteoarthritis: This is generally described as wear and tear on the joint. It is often associated with biomechanical imbalances, where the joint is stressed in an abnormal way. For example, a leg-length difference or a fracture of the thighbone (femur) might cause the hip to receive more stress and so become more prone to damage.
- Inflammatory arthritis: Also known as inflammatory arthropathy, this has less to do with biomechanical imbalances and more to do with specific types of disease. In many instances there appears to be an autoimmune component, where the body’s antibodies attack its own tissue. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and conditions such as gout.
Is there cure for arthritis of the feet?
In the case of osteoarthritis, a key aspect of treatment involves finding the biomechanical imbalance that has led to excessive wear on a joint. This is one of the key functions of the biomechanical assessment to allow for the recognition of dynamic factors which may be contributing to arthritis. Only when the cause is fully and properly established can an effective treatment plan be initiated, and this is why the Foot Health Podiatry Clinic has invested considerable effort and resources in acquiring sophisticated biomechanical and gait analysis technology. Tremendous advancements have been made in the treatment of inflammatory arthritis. Treatment revolves around early diagnosis and aggressive drug therapy to ensure that the disease is brought quickly under control.
How do I know which form of arthritis I have?
If you can answer yes to the following three key questions, then you are more likely to have inflammatory arthritis, rather than osteoarthritis.
- If you have pain in your feet or hands, is this pain aggravated when the foot or hand is squeezed?
- Do the painful joints in the hands or feet swell?
- Are the painful joints associated with stiffness in the morning which lasts for more than 30 minutes?
If the answer to these three questions is yes, then you are likely to be suffering from inflammatory arthritis rather than osteoarthritis. However, there are other conditions, which can mimic arthritis type symptoms, so always seek a medical opinion.
How common is osteoarthritis in the feet?
Studies have shown that up to 80% of older population has some degree of arthritis in their feet. It has been estimated that approximately 20% of people in general have osteoarthritis.
Is it possible to have osteoarthritis in just one joint?
While this is possible, it is uncommon and most individuals who notice arthritis in one joint will also have the condition in other joints.
Are bunions the same as osteoarthritis?
Most people who have bunions begin to develop some degree of abnormality within their great-toe joint, so osteoarthritis and bunions therefore do often co-exist.
What are the treatments for osteoarthritis of the foot?
In order to achieve effective treatment it is essential that the foot be biomechanically assessed. This involves a biomechanical assessment and computerised gait analysis. Once the underlying abnormal biomechanical forces are recognised, then treatment can be initiated.
- Orthotic intervention: there is evidence that insoles can help with arthritis. This is particularly true of arthritis affecting the midfoot and the great-toe joint. More research is required but many patients at the Foot Health Podiatry Clinic find that their symptoms ease with specialist orthotic intervention.
- Drug therapy: certain drugs can be prescribed to deal with the symptoms of arthritis and these include anti-inflammatories. It is of course desirable, if possible, to avoid taking drugs as all drugs may have potential side effects.
- Specialist injections: A number of injections can be considered for the management of osteoarthritis. Steroid injections have been shown to reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis and can be helpful as part of a holistic treatment approach, especially if the underlying cause is addressed. Other injections include hyaluronic acid injections, which can prove helpful for some patients.
- Surgery: Surgery can be very effective for the management of arthritis. In some instances the arthritic part of the joint can be planed away and the tissue that produces the inflammation and fluid can be removed. In other instances, more sophisticated surgery is required to improve the biomechanical alignment or to actually remove the joint and replace it with the patient’s own natural tissue or an artificial joint.
Do injections work with osteoarthritis of the feet?
Injection therapy can provide relief and studies have shown that up to 60% of people benefit. Injections are far more likely to be successful if the foot is first stabilised biomechanically. For example, by receiving good orthoses.
What about cures for inflammatory arthritis?
This is a condition that should be managed in a multi-disciplinary way. It is important that you see a rheumatologist once the condition is suspected. The Foot Health Podiatry Clinic works closely with rheumatologists to ensure that any drug management is immediately expedited. This is very important, as research has shown that the best results from medication are achieved when patients are treated within 12 weeks of diagnosis. There should therefore be no delay as this could result in a less predictable outcome and more serious complications.
There is also evidence that specialist orthoses can help with symptoms associated with inflammatory arthropathy, and we at Foot Health Podiatry Clinic will swiftly initiate treatment to stabilise the foot and improve biomechanical deficiencies which may occur.
Are there any other medical conditions associated with arthritis?
Osteoarthritis can occur as a consequence of injury. Inflammatory arthropathy is associated with a number of different conditions, including:
- Psoriasis, a relatively common skin condition.
- Erythema nodosum,
- Arthritis associated with a condition known as sarcoidosis
- Some arthritis can also be associated with conditions affecting the digestive system and bowel. These include Crohn’s disease.
So how does The Foot Health Podiatry Clinic treat arthritis?
1) Accurate diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis leading to prompt referral to a consultant rheumatologist and rapid initiation of drug therapy.
2) Accurate diagnosis of osteoarthritis by means of biomechanical and gait analysis.
3) Custom orthotic therapy to rebalance the stress on joints.
4) Footwear advice and to minimise the mechanical stress on joints affected by osteoarthritis.