Did you know that you have 26 tiny bones and 33 joints—20 of which are actively articulated—in a single foot? Consider also how much weight, pressure, and force you place on your feet each and every day. It’s no wonder that almost half of seniors suffer from arthritic feet.
But take heart! There are many ways to help ease the pain of foot and ankle arthritis and keep you active. Here are a few of our top tips:
Start a Training Regimen for Your Feet
Most people who have a regular exercise routine—even those who are pretty serious about it—tend to overlook their feet. But it’s not just your torso, upper body, and legs that need attention! Improving strength, flexibility, and mobility in your feet and ankles will make you feel better and relieve tension on your arthritic joints.
Achilles, calf, arch and toe stretches are all highly recommended. Some simple examples:
- Wall calf stretch. Stand a directly in front of a wall. Place the ball of your foot against the wall a few inches up, keeping your heel flat on the ground. While keeping your knee straight, gently lean forward into the wall until you can feel a good stretch.
- Toe extension and flexion. Sit up in a chair and place your right foot over your left knee. Grab your heel with your left hand and your big toe with your right. For extensions, gently pull your toe back toward your ankle until you feel a stretch. For flexion, push your toe down and away. Switch feet and repeat (even if your arthritis is worse in one foot or the other).
You can incorporate exercise into your routine throughout the day, even when watching TV! For example, get some reps in by rotating your ankles and wiggling your toes during commercial breaks.
Massage Your Aching Feet
Massages feel great, and they also help promote blood flow and can provide temporary relief for inflammation and pain.
If you have a loved one who’s game, ask them to give you a quick foot rub. If you’re on your own (or can’t convince anyone to touch your feet!) no worries! Rest your foot on top of the opposite knee and grab with both hands. Use firm pressure with your thumbs, working from heel to toe. Both long strokes and small circles can be effective, so choose what feels best! Grab, squeeze, and gently stretch each toe.
Once again, you can incorporate some massage tricks even as you go about your day. One trick is to place a golf ball underneath your feet as you sit down to eat, watch TV, or read. Roll the golf ball underfoot to gently work out tension in the heels and arches.
Relieve Your Pain with Medicine
If you’re feeling especially sore, you may try an over-the-counter oral anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or aspirin—just make sure your doctor has approved you for these drugs and you are careful about following all the proper dosage instructions.
Analgesics are another good option for many types of arthritis, and may in fact be better for some people who can’t take anti-inflammatories for medical reasons. These often come as over-the-counter creams and salves, and may use a variety of different active ingredients. We’re happy to provide whatever advice you need about which of these products may be most effective for your pain. Again, you want to make sure any drug you use is safe and only applied according to the dosage directions.
If over-the-counter medications are insufficient or not recommended, we can prescribe something stronger or perhaps provide steroid injection. Certain types of arthritis may also respond to other classes of medications, such as disease-altering anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologic response modifiers.
Wear Appropriate Shoes, Inserts, or Other Assistive Devices
Good shoes for your feet are like glasses or contacts for your eyes. The right pair will help your feet work properly and protect it from strain and injury. The wrong pair will make your feet hurt and tired!
Get yourself a comfortable, supportive pair of walking shoes for your day-to-day activities. Flip flops, flimsy slippers, unsupportive flats, and high heels all need to go! Look for key features like
- Low, thick heels
- A wide toe box to accommodate wiggling toes and any deformities (bunions, hammertoes, etc.) that may be present
- Grippy rubber soles
- Good cushioning and built-in arch support—or at the very least, enough space to insert your own orthotics (prescription or otherwise).
Depending on the location, type, and severity of your arthritis we may recommend other types of shoes or shoe features. For example, rocker bottom shoes can be extremely helpful for people who have lost a lot of motion in certain joints, including the ankle or the big toe.
Finally, our office can provide you with shoe inserts that can offload pressure from arthritic joints and promote healthy biomechanics. These may be either prefabricated arch supports and padding, or custom-made orthotics. Some people may further benefit from a larger brace or ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to improve stability and mobility.
Improve Overall Health and Wellness
Remember that your body isn’t just a collection of unrelated parts and pieces attached together. What happens in one part of the body affects every other part. Attending to your overall health and wellness, then, can improve symptoms in arthritic feet and ankles.
The most obvious example is weight loss. The logic here is simple—the lighter you are, the less pressure you put on arthritic joints in your feet. If you are overweight or obese, shedding even a few pounds can make a big difference. Other examples?
A healthy diet not only helps you control your weight, but provides joints, connective tissues, and supporting muscles with the nutrients they need.
Staying physically fit via exercise not only strengthens and supports arthritic joints, but also helps your body use the nutrients and oxygen you provide it more efficiently and effectively, easing pain and inflammation everywhere.
Good sleeping habits are critical, too. Sleep and pain are linked, and arthritis sufferers who are sleep deprived tend to experience more pain and fatigue and are more likely to become disabled over time from their arthritis. If you’re having trouble sleeping, these tips may help:
- Establish (and stick to) a specific bedtime
- Avoid electronic devices within an hour of bed. The light from screens can “trick” your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
- Keep your bedroom dark (blackout curtains are recommended). Avoid watching TV or using phones or other screen devices in bed—it should be a place of quiet rest.
- Avoid caffeine as much as possible, especially within 6-8 hours of bedtime. Caffeine can stay in your system for a long time, especially if you’re older, so use should be restricted to the morning only.
If the above tips aren’t enough to relieve your arthritic foot pain, we may start to look at surgical options. Some of these may include:
- Cleaning in and around joint surfaces (debridement). Loose cartilage, bone spurs or chips, and inflamed tissue may be removed from the area of the joint. This tends to be most effective in earlier stages of arthritis.
- Joint fusion (arthrodesis). When arthritis pain is more serious and damage more extensive, sometimes the best solution is to simply fuse the adjoining bones together so the arthritic joint can no longer move—especially combining them into a single bone. Since this will often lead to permanent reduction in range of motion, it is only considered in specific circumstances.
No matter what, our primary goal is to keep you as active and pain free as possible. To set up an appointment with Dr. Sanjay Patel in either Milford or Hamden, give us a call at (203) 876-7736.