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Arthritis footcare: It's in the shoes

Many forms of arthritis commonly affect the feet. When they do, walking can be difficult and painful.

Osteoarthritis frequently causes degeneration of the cartilage and formation of bony spurs at the base of the big toe. This can sometimes cause bunions to develop. Wider shoes may be necessary. High-heeled and pointed shoes should be avoided since they can put unnecessary pressure at the point of the bunion. Degeneration of the arch of the foot can be associated with spur formation on the top of the foot. This can put pressure on adjacent nerves of sensation, which can cause a feeling of burning of the foot and toes. When this discomfort occurs, patients should avoid tying the shoe tightly or wear a shoe that does not bind at the point of the spur.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of the joints at the ball of the foot, which loosens their ligaments and can cause the bone to push against the skin of the bottom of the foot. This can lead to tender calluses and ulcerations at the ball of the foot, which may even require surgical repair. A bar of leather attached to the bottom of the shoe behind the arch of the foot can help by displacing pressure from the ball to the middle of the foot. Further rheumatoid deformity can cause the toes to cock up, which can lead to abrasion of the tops of the toes.

Gout can cause hard deposits of uric acid crystals to form a lump at the inner side of the base of the big toe. Depending on the size of the deposit, there can be abrasion and even ulceration from the shoe. Wider style shoes can be helpful.

The importance of getting the right shoes with arthritis

Wide-fitting or box-toed shoes can be extremely comfortable for people with these conditions. Lumps of soft tissues, called nodules, can form on the sides of the foot and heel, or on the toes. Nodules can ulcerate as a result of abrasion of shoes. Sometimes, slits cut into the shoe at the point of the nodules can help to relieve painful pressure. Furthermore, non-tie style laces are now available, making it easier for people with rheumatoid arthritis to fasten the shoes.

Occasionally, doctors will examine the shoes that a patient has worn to find evidence of deformity (for instance, a shoe leaning to one side or another), wear and alignment. These independent shoe examinations give a good indication of the use of the foot over recent months. It can sometimes be used to help define not only causes of foot pains, but also ankle, knee or hip pains.

In general, running shoes are frequently an advantage because of their light weight. Correctly fitting and comfortable shoes can provide welcome relief and often improved function for patients with foot damage from arthritis. When choosing shoes, always try on several pairs and walk around in them before purchasing. The salesperson will understand that you are interested in both function and comfort.

Correctly fitted shoes are worth investing time and effort. Be kind to your feet and they will get you where you want to go.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 01, 2012

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