Arthritis, in general terms, is inflammation and swelling of the cartilage and lining of the joints, generally accompanied by an increase in the fluid in the joints. Arthritis has multiple causes; just as a sore throat may have its origin in a variety of diseases, so joint inflammation and arthritis are associated with many different illnesses.
Arthritis is a frequent component of complex diseases that may involve more than 100 identifiable disorders. If the feet seem more susceptible to arthritis than other parts of the body, it is because each foot has 33 joints that can be afflicted, and there is no way to avoid the pain of the tremendous weight-bearing load on the feet.
Arthritis is a disabling and occasionally crippling disease; it afflicts almost 40 million Americans. In some forms, it appears to have hereditary tendencies. While the prevalence of arthritis increases with age, all people from infancy to middle age are potential victims. People over 50 are the primary targets.
Arthritic feet can result in loss of mobility and independence, but that may be avoided with early diagnosis and proper medical care.
Besides heredity, arthritic symptoms may arise in a number of ways:
• Through injuries, notably in athletes and industrial workers, especially if the injuries have been ignored (which injuries of the feet tend to be).
• Through bacterial and viral infections that strike the joints. The same organisms that are present in pneumonia, gonorrhea, staph infections, and Lyme disease cause the inflammations.
• In conjunction with bowel disorders such as colitis and ileitis, frequently resulting in arthritic conditions in the joints of the ankles and toes. Such inflammatory bowel diseases seem distant from arthritis, but treating them can relieve arthritic pain.
• Using drugs, both prescription drugs and illegal street drugs, can induce arthritis.
• As part of a congenital autoimmune disease syndrome of undetermined origin. Recent research has suggested, for instance, that a defective gene may play a role in osteoarthritis.
Because arthritis can affect the structure and function of the feet it is important to see a doctor of podiatric medicine if any of the following symptoms occur in the feet:
• Swelling in one or more joints
• Recurring pain or tenderness in any joint
• Redness or heat in a joint
• Limitation in motion of joint
• Early morning stiffness
• Skin changes, including rashes and growths
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is frequently called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. Although it can be brought on suddenly by an injury, its onset is generally gradual; aging brings on a breakdown in cartilage, and pain gets progressively more severe, although it can be relieved with rest. Dull, throbbing nighttime pain is characteristic, and it may be accompanied by muscle weakness or deterioration. Walking may become erratic.
It is a particular problem for the feet when people are overweight, simply because there are so many joints in each foot. The additional weight contributes to the deterioration of cartilage and the development of bone spurs.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a major crippling
disorder, and perhaps the most serious form of arthritis. It is a complex,
chronic inflammatory system of diseases, often affecting more than a
dozen smaller joints during the course of the disease, frequently in
a symmetrical pattern—both ankles, or the index fingers of both
hands, for example. It is often accompanied by signs and symptoms—lengthy
morning stiffness, fatigue, and weight loss—and it may affect
various systems of the body, such as the eyes, lungs, heart, and nervous
system. Women are three or four times more likely than men to suffer
Gout (gouty arthritis) is a condition caused by a buildup of the salts of uric acid—a normal byproduct of the diet—in the joints. A single big toe joint is commonly the affected area, possibly because it is subject to so much pressure in walking; attacks of gouty arthritis are extremely painful, perhaps more so than any other form of arthritis. Men are much more likely to be afflicted than women, an indication that heredity may play a role in the disease. While a rich diet that contains lots of red meat, rich sauces, shellfish, and brandy is popularly associated with gout, there are other protein compounds in foods such as lentils and beans that may play a role.
Different forms of arthritis affect the body in different ways; many have distinct systemic affects that are not common to other forms. Early diagnosis is important to effective treatment of any form. Destruction of cartilage is not reversible, and if the inflammation of arthritic disease isn’t treated, both cartilage and bone can be damaged, which makes the joints increasingly difficult to move. Most forms of arthritis cannot be cured, but can be controlled or brought into remission; perhaps only five percent of the most serious cases, usually of rheumatoid arthritis, result in such severe crippling that walking aids or wheelchairs are required.
Your podiatric physician/surgeon has been trained specifically and extensively in the diagnosis and treatment of all manners of foot conditions. This training encompasses all of the intricately related systems and structures of the foot and lower leg including neurological, circulatory, skin, and the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.
Bushnell Foot Clinic
183 W. First St, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126
(630) 530-FEET (3338)
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