Person clutching feet

How to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis Foot Pain

Person clutching feet

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. One of the most common symptoms of RA is foot pain, which can significantly impact mobility and quality of life. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the causes of foot pain in rheumatoid arthritis, as well as effective strategies to relieve and manage this discomfort.

Understanding rheumatoid arthritis foot pain

Foot pain is a prevalent issue for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, approximately 90% of people with RA experience some form of foot pain. This pain can manifest in various ways, including joint inflammation, aching ankles, and pain in the big toe. In some cases, foot and ankle problems may even be the initial symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Common Symptoms of RA-Related Foot and Ankle Problems

The symptoms of foot pain in rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience pain, while others may feel a burning or tingling sensation. Swelling and stiffness are also common symptoms. The most commonly affected areas include the joints and the ball of the foot. In some cases, the ankles may be particularly affected and appear swollen.

How Inflammation Contributes to Foot Pain in Rheumatoid Arthritis

In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation of the lining (synovium) of the joints in the foot leads to foot pain. This inflammation can cause joint bone erosions and other damage, resulting in foot deformities. Some of the foot deformities associated with rheumatoid arthritis include bunions, hammertoe, bursitis, Charcot arthropathy, plantar fasciitis, rheumatoid nodules, and valgus heel.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis Foot Pain

Effective management of rheumatoid arthritis foot pain involves a combination of medical interventions, lifestyle changes, and self-care strategies. It is crucial to work closely with healthcare professionals, including rheumatologists and podiatrists, to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.


Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are commonly prescribed to control inflammation and prevent joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis. These medications can help alleviate foot pain and manage the progression of the disease. In some cases, local steroid injections may be recommended for inflamed joints or conditions like plantar fasciitis.

Orthotics and Supportive Footwear

Proper footwear and orthotics play a crucial role in managing foot pain in rheumatoid arthritis. It is essential to choose shoes with good arch support, a wide toe box, and midfoot support. Orthotic inserts can provide additional cushioning and support, reducing pressure on the joints and relieving pain. Working with a podiatrist can help identify the most suitable orthotics for individual needs.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Physical therapy and exercise are integral components of managing foot pain in rheumatoid arthritis. A physiotherapist can design an exercise program tailored to individual needs, focusing on improving joint mobility, strengthening muscles, and enhancing overall foot health. Low-impact activities like swimming and cycling can be particularly beneficial for individuals with foot pain.

Surgical Interventions

In some cases, surgical interventions may be necessary to alleviate severe foot pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Surgical options include procedures to correct bunions, hammertoes, and rheumatoid nodules. Joint fusion or realignment surgeries can also be performed to restore proper foot function and alleviate pain.

Self-Care Tips

In addition to medical interventions, there are several self-care strategies that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can incorporate into their daily routine to manage foot pain:

  • Weight management: Maintaining a healthy body weight can help reduce the pressure on the feet and minimise foot pain. High body mass index has been linked to increased foot pain and deformities in individuals with RA.
  • Exercise choice: Choosing low-impact exercises, such as swimming or cycling, can help keep joints mobile without putting excessive strain on the feet.
  • Foot care: Regularly checking the feet for any signs of irritation, blisters, or cuts is important. Taking care of minor injuries promptly can prevent infections and further complications.
  • Foot massage: Massaging the feet with gentle pressure can help alleviate pain and improve circulation. Using natural oils like coconut oil during the massage can provide additional moisturization and relaxation.
  • Proper footwear: Wearing shoes that provide adequate support, have a wide toe box, and can accommodate orthotics is essential. It is recommended to try out new shoes in different situations and return them if they do not meet the necessary criteria.
  • Pain management: Using hot or cold therapies, such as warm foot baths or ice packs, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribed medications can also be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Additional Information

It is important to note that rheumatoid arthritis foot pain can vary in severity and may require a combination of different treatment approaches. Each individual’s experience with foot pain may differ, and it is essential to work closely with healthcare professionals to determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Regular monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan may be necessary to ensure optimal pain management and foot health.

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