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What Rheumatoid Arthritis Does to the Feet and Ankles

Content provided by: Better Medicine from Healthgrades

When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may wonder how it might affect your joints. In many people, RA starts in small joints, such as those in your hands and feet. In fact, more than 90% of people with RA will experience symptoms in their feet or ankles at some point. For about 20% of patients, RA symptoms first show up in their feet and ankles.

One of the defining features of RA is that it usually affects both sides of your body. So if you have symptoms in one foot, it’s likely that symptoms will appear in the same joint in the other foot, too.

The most common symptoms of RA include pain, swelling, and stiffness. It’s important to know the specific signs to watch for so you can work with your doctor to relieve those symptoms. Here’s a closer look at how RA may affect your ankles and the different parts of your feet.

What RA does to the ankle: Early on, you may notice that you have difficulty with ramps or stairs because of the symptoms of RA. With time, RA can make walking and even standing painful.

What RA does to the heel area: Also called the hindfoot, this part of your foot helps with side-to-side motion. RA can make it difficult to walk on uneven surfaces such as grass or gravel. You may feel pain around part of your shin or the outer foot. RA can cause your bones to shift and alter the alignment of your foot. This can lead to pain in the arch and around your ankle.

What RA does to the top of the foot: This part of your foot is known as the midfoot. RA causes the ligaments in your midfoot to weaken and may lead to the collapse of your arch. RA damages the structures that support your foot and can cause the shape of your foot to change. Your foot might start to point outward. You may also notice a bony bump on the arch. These changes can make it difficult and painful to wear shoes.

What RA does to the toes: Two serious problems that may occur because of RA include bunions and claw toes. With bunions, the base of your big toe is enlarged and sticks out. This can cause your big toe to cross over your second toe. Claw toes occur when joints in your toes are dislocated due to complications with RA. This creates a bend in your toes that becomes fixed and doesn’t move even when you wear shoes. Many people experience both of these painful conditions.

It’s important to discuss any symptoms or changes with your doctor. Nonsurgical and surgical treatment options can help you get back on your feet.

Key Takeaways

  • More than 90% of people with RA will have symptoms in their feet or ankles.

  • RA can cause your bones to shift and alter the alignment of your foot.

  • RA can cause the ligaments in your midfoot to weaken and may lead to the collapse of your arch.

  • RA also can cause bunions and claw toes.

  • Nonsurgical and surgical treatment options can help you get back on your feet.

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert, MD Last Annual Review Date: 2013-05-15 Copyright: © 2013 Healthgrades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.
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