Arthritis and Podiatric Care of Arthritis

Arthritis is prevalent in the UK where we have a substantial elderly community. It is a condition which can severely impact mobility and movement, particularly if it spreads to the lower limbs. When arthritis affects the foot or ankle it can come under the care of podiatrists, specialist in diseases that affect that part of the body. In this article we take a look at what arthritis is and the role podiatry has to play in its treatment.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a fairly common condition which causes an inflammation of joints that limits their movement and causes pain. The disease varies in its intensity and presentation, and there are subtypes defined by different causes and disease progressions, however all forms of arthritis are uniform in that they involve a distinctive inflammation of the joints. This presents with substantial joint pain, as well as a feeling of stiffness and tiredness. Arthritis can damage the muscles surrounding a joint as they strain to work against arthritic joints.

There are over 100 different classifications of arthritis, and significant examples include:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most prevalent form the diseases, potentially affecting virtually any joint in the body. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease which involves the gradual wear of joints to the point where they become inflamed and their movement is limited.
  • Septic arthritis: This form of arthritis is caused by infections that make their way into joints. One of the usual physical responses to disease is inflammation, and once within a joint, this response is what triggers arthritis.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Is the consequence of what is called an ‘autoimmune’ disease, which simply means that the body’s ability to distinguish between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ entities deteriorates and an immune response is mounted against cells of the body. This assault can affect cartilage and joint linings, causing them to deteriorate and joints to become inflamed.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis: This form of arthritis is a complication of another autoimmune disease called Psoriasis. This disease involves an immune response against skin cells, including ones lining joints.

As you can imagine, once arthritis begins to affect the foot it can severely limit a person’s ability to walk and carry out normal day to day tasks. This is where podiatrists can offer their services to help reduce the pain and discomfort of arthritis, thereby facilitating better movement.

Podiatry and the treatment of arthritis

Podiatric care can make a huge difference to an arthritic person’s quality of life, and treatment is available across most NHS Trusts here in the UK if your arthritis is impairing your movement. Private podiatry is also available, and your nearest practice can readily be found online through The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists’ website.

A podiatrist can assess the way you are walking to determine the best method of moving forward with your treatment. This is a study called gait analysis, and can provide a podiatrist with invaluable information about your unique situation. Gait analysis makes use of some highly specialised equipment that can determine the range of motion you have available to you, how much pressure is being exerted, and where, on your foot, what forces are being applied to the joints of your foot, and perhaps most importantly, how your gait has changed because of your arthritis.

Our bodies naturally change our movement in response to pain, and this can tell a podiatrist which joints are being affected. This adjustment can cause some problems in the long run, as sometimes joints and bones can deform in response to your new way of moving.

Based on gait analysis, a podiatrist can adjust your foot wear through personalised orthotic insoles. These support parts of your foot in such a way as to relieve your pain and allow for normal movement.

Podiatrists are qualified to perform minor foot surgeries that can also help the arthritic foot. Sometimes adjusting our gait in response to pain can stress toe nails in such a way that they begin to deform as well. Minor nail surgery can correct these changes and restore comfort and functionality. Podiatrists who have trained in further surgery also have access to a broader catalogue of procedures.

Podiatry is now an important part of managing arthritis and ensuring that people suffering from the condition aren’t restricted in terms of their movement. Remember however that caring for arthritis isn’t restricted to any one discipline, and the care provided by doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists all contribute to manage arthritis effectively.

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