Living with Arthritis? Tips for Relieving Pain in Your Lower Legs & Feet
Arthritis can be a debilitating condition that turns a leisurely stroll into a pain-filled nightmare or a relaxed day of house cleaning into a miserable day of swollen joints. Arthritis can occur in any joint in the body but is often found in the hands and feet in the smaller joints of the fingers, toes, wrists, and ankles. When it comes to living with arthritis in the feet, ankles, and knees, daily pain can wreak havoc on activities of daily living.
First, let’s go over the most common types of arthritis found in the lower extremities.
- Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is characterized by the wearing away of the protective cartilage in the joints over time and with repetitive use. This wear-and-tear arthritis affects up to 50% of the American population.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic type of arthritis that affects every joint in the body, not just the lower extremities. It is more common in women, and while it causes isn’t known, one thing is clear; this is a painful autoimmune disorder that attacks and destroys the healthy and protective cartilage found in the body.
- Post-traumatic arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis and occurs as you might expect – after a traumatic injury to a joint. Inflammation and wearing away of cartilage are the main culprits of pain.
- Ankylosing spondylitis and juvenile arthritis usually affect the young, although ankylosing spondylitis can also occur in adults. This type of arthritis generally occurs because of genetic disposition and causes inflammation and swelling between the vertebrae of the spine, as well as the pelvic attachment. Hips, knees, and shoulders are also commonly affected.
There are many other types of arthritis, but the common theme as it pertains to the lower extremities is the limited mobility due to pain when walking, climbing stairs, bending over, or other daily activities. When it hurts to perform these activities, the likelihood of becoming sedentary increases, which in turn can lead to many other health problems.
As contrary as it may sound, the best medicine for improving arthritic symptoms is to get up and get moving! Maintaining an active lifestyle improves the range of motion and function of the joints, even arthritic ones. Exercise also strengthens the muscles around the joints and increases flexibility and endurance. Naturally, other benefits include better weight control, which plays a contributing factor in pain in the joints.
If you have pain in the knees, don’t count out that it might, in fact, have something to do with your feet! Improper gait due to other problems not associated with arthritis, like flat feet or bunions, can actually cause your gait to shift to the point where each step creates a shearing of the knee joint. A poor gait can even lead to back pain. It’s important to treat your feet like the foundation for the rest of your body; correct any issues with the foundation, and the rest of the body will benefit.
To start, make sure your shoes are properly fitted and if necessary, wear custom orthotics to correct any pronation or supination, flat feet, bunions or hammertoes. Secondly, any conditions that need to be treated should be seen by a podiatrist and a treatment plan put in place.
In addition to wearing proper footwear, people with arthritis should avoid temperature extremes, which can cause inflammation and pain in the affected joint. Avoid walking barefoot, especially if you have arthritis in the toe joints, as this could exacerbate swelling due to the toes gripping the floor while walking. Keep circulation moving in the legs and feet and avoid sitting for long periods of time, which can make the joints feel stiff.
Aside from anti-inflammatory medications, there are several treatment options to help alleviate pain from arthritis, including supportive inserts and orthotics, toe separators and treating other contributing conditions. Request an appointment with one of our podiatric specialists today for a foot exam by clicking here or call any of our convenient office locations in the Piedmont Triad.
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