Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition whereby the joints are attacked by the immune system causing joint pains, swelling, and stiffness. Being an auto-immune disease, RA can affect people of all ages. This disease is not usually part of the normal aging process as compared to the more widely known osteoarthritis. Without timely intervention, irreversible joint deformities may develop, affecting mobility and quality of life as well as potentially leading to disability. Over 90% of those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis develop symptoms in the foot and ankle, making it a condition of concern for podiatrists.1 While RA is not as prevalent in Asia as it is in other parts of world, it often goes unreported here due to the lack of awareness.
While the cause for RA has not been determined, there are a number of factors that may increase your risk of develop rheumatoid arthritis.
- Hereditary factors
- Being a smoker
- Possessing certain genetic marker
- Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis
RA can have an effect on the skin and underlying tissues, making them vulnerable to damage and infection. The nodules caused by RA can also lead to irritation of the skin, causing the formation of corns and calluses. If neglected, these can develop into ulcers. While uncommon, patients with RA may also experience decreased blood supply, leading to other potential complications of the foot.
In addition to medications prescribed by your rheumatologist to control your rheumatoid arthritis, podiatrists may assess for joint and foot posture abnormalities, provide information regarding footwear and customised podiatry prescription orthotics, or prescribe various treatment modalities to help with pain and address joint deformities. While footwear may not seem like a major concern, many patients with RA also wear poor fitting shoes or shoes that are worn out, increasing their risk of complications due to damage to their joints rubbing of the skin.
Podiatric intervention can significantly reduce foot pain and disability, with early treatment being key for successful intervention.