Arch Nemesis- Rheumatoid Arthritis & Your Feet: June 19, 2014

An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis wreaks havoc on the body’s joints.

“Your body destroys or reacts with the joint tissue and the synovial lining of the joint. And by doing that it creates a lot of swelling, inflammation, pain. And that creates deformity if left unchecked,” says Dr. Andrew Belis, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon on staff with Lee Memorial Health System.

It commonly affects multiple joints. When it comes to the feet, rheumatoid arthritis is an arch nemesis.

 “The flatter foot type, the collapse of the joints, deviation of the toes, hammering of the toes or bunions and hallux valgus problems,” says Dr. Belis.

The next step in many cases is that patients have trouble walking. A foot surgeon can use several techniques to correct deviations, restore balance and lessen pain.

“If it’s just a contracted joint that’s just in the early stages sometimes just doing some simple lengthening of the tendons can help strengthen them out. If it’s caused a little more joint degeneration of the joint surface itself, then sometimes the joints are not salvageable at all,” says Dr. Belis.

In those cases a fusion might restore the most function. Before it gets to that point, a specialist may intervene with some step savers.

“We definitely want to support the foot’s structure. We use insoles orthotics, custom orthotics, proper shoes. Sometimes physical therapy can help as well,” says Dr. Belis. 

The bottom line: seek professional help in order to side-step pain.