Arthritis: Creaking Joints

Rust can ruin hinges. Doors and windows that once swung open freely have to be forced, often with loud creaks and groans, when they rust enough. The damage to the metal causes too much friction. Something similar can happen in your joints. Arthritis of the foot “rusts” them and makes it both harder and more painful to move.

Grinding Bone on Bone

Arthritis of the foot is actually a general description for a variety of painful problems in your foot and ankle joints. Your bones have a protective sheath of smooth cartilage that forms a cap over the ends. This, along with a thin, slippery lining, allows your feet to move and bend easily and without pain. When you develop arthritis, something changes the structures in the joint so that your bones are unable to move smoothly. The ends instead grind together painfully, damaging each other and making movement more difficult. This can be caused by wear and tear over time, injuries, infections, and autoimmune diseases. The most common kinds in the feet are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, and gout.

Osteoarthritis is the slow wear and tear of the bones and the most common cause of joint inflammation. Typically it develops gradually, after years of use and pressure break down the cartilage and allow the bones underneath to grind together. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. No one is quite sure why, but the body begins to attack the structures in the joints. The inflammation distorts and damages the tissues, worsening with time. Post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury. Even if the original problem seemed small, damage to the protective cartilage allows the bones to rub together. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid. These sharp, pointy crystals collect in the joints—especially the big toe—and create painful friction between the bones.

All arthritis of the foot and ankle gets worse with time. This is especially true with the lower limbs, since there is no way to avoid putting pressure on the uncomfortable joints. Usually you feel pain or tenderness around the affected area. That joint gets stiffer as the friction between the bones increases and limits movement. Often there is swelling and inflammation. Any of these symptoms can make it very difficult to walk, especially as the problem progresses. You’ll need to take intentional steps to limit the condition’s advancement and maintain your mobility.

Relieving Friction and Pain

Our staff here at NorthPointe Foot & Ankle will help you determine what type of arthritis is causing your discomfort. We will thoroughly examine your lower limbs and check for changes and stiffness. We may request diagnostic images to rule out other possible causes and check the severity of your condition. After identifying the problem, we can help you plan treatments to relieve your pain and maintain normal foot functions.

You’ll need to make accommodations in your shoes to help avoid aggravating the condition. This may mean switching to models with stiffened or rocker soles to relieve some strain on your joints. Most likely you’ll need orthotics to both cushion and support your lower limbs. We may recommend various medications to relieve pain and lower inflammation. In some cases, you may need direction injections of medicine to help. Sometimes physical therapy will allow you to maintain the range of motion in the joint. If the condition progresses too far, or the symptoms are not being helped by conservative treatments, you may need surgery to repair some of the damage. This could include debriding the structures, fusing the bones, or replacing the joint all together.

Arthritis can be severely crippling and result in joint deformity, limited mobility, and severe pain. You don’t have to sit back and give up your active lifestyle, though. You can take steps to reduce your discomfort and restore some strength and movement. Contact NorthPointe Foot & Ankle in Berkley, MI, for an appointment or more information to see how we can help your joints. Call (248) 545-0100 or use the online contact page to reach us.