A foot skeleton with inflammation where MTP pain is located.

Foot Pain & Rheumatoid Arthritis: Things I Wish I Knew When First Diagnosed

Last updated: January 2023

On the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation website, Ailsa Bosworth wrote: “Something like 90 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis experience pain and problems with their feet and footwear is a huge issue for many.”1

When I read her statement it just really got the wheels turning in my head. As I think back to my 16-plus year journey with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I would continually voice my foot pain complaints to my rheumatologist. Honestly, I felt as if I wasn’t being listened to.

Addressing my RA foot pain

It wasn’t until December 2018 when I switched rheumatologists that any of my concerns about my feet were addressed. That is when my rheumatologist sent me to a podiatrist. A podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in treating issues that occur with the feet.

It wasn’t until then that I realized that there were things that I could do to help my painful feet. For some, RA-related foot pain most affects both feet. This pain can occur suddenly or over a period of time. It really depends on the person.

RA attacks the MTP joints

In January of 2019, the podiatrist examined my foot and ran various tests including an X-ray and MRI of my feet to get a baseline of how the RA affected my feet.

Other ways that RA affect the feet

The podiatrist explained that RA can attack the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints in the feet. The small joints in your feet are the most common target with RA. RA can also cause:2,3

  • Lateral drift: drifting of your toes toward your baby toes
  • Bunions: painful bony lumps on your feet
  • Flat feet: when the arch of your foot collapses
  • Permanent shortening of muscles and tendons leading to calluses under your foot
  • Heel pain
  • Rheumatoid nodules: lumps under the skin usually by bony prominences of your feet
  • Skin rash

My 6 tips to help maintain foot health

1. Talk with your rheumatologist about working with a podiatrist.

2. When you exercise, try to do activities like swimming that put less stress on the joints of your feet.

3. Keep working hard on maintaining your weight. This is a difficult one for me. There are a lot of reasons why this is hard: medications, pain level, etc. All we can do is our best.

4. Try soaking your feet in a warm foot bath with Epsom salt.

5. Investigate products that are natural. I personally have used and felt relief with over-the-counter Topricin foot pain relief cream. Currently, I am also using a hemp oil hydrating salve.

6. Wear supportive shoes and orthotic inserts if your podiatrist feels the orthotic inserts would be of benefit to you. Having good arch support has been key to me. It helps to distribute your body weight more evenly and helps decrease the amount of pressure on your small joints of your foot.

These suggestions are a start

I really hope that this article helps someone out there. My foot pain through the years has been excruciating. I hope that you don’t have to go through what I did.

These suggestions are not a cure, but anything that can help us live the best version of ourselves is a win! Please look for another article coming your way soon that discusses the process I went through in getting foot orthotics.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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