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Managing Arthritis of the Foot

Managing arthritis of the foot

The Biomechanics Lab | Adelaide Podiatry, Biomechanics, Physiotherapy & Sports Science

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness of our joints. Arthritis is commonly associated with the hip, knee and ankle. Yet recent research is starting to reveal the prevalence of arthritis in our feet, with one in six people over the age of 50 suffering debilitating pain.

Despite the impact arthritis can have at its end stage, a diagnosis of arthritis does not need to be a burden on your ability to exercise or live pain free. But treatment does not to start as early as possible to provide you the best chance of a positive, long-term outcome.

How can The Biomechanics Lab help you with your Foot Arthritis?

As podiatrists, we have a range of options available to us to help reduce your symptoms and improve function. This is often centred around the the midfoot and the big toe as these are the most common sites of arthritis in the foot.

At The Biomechanics Lab, we have three main focusses in the initial treatment phase:

Preserve the joint range of motion for as long as possible

Irrespective of the location of joint arthritis, the first priority for me is early joint preservation. How do we keep the joint moving as freely as possible, for as long as possible? Because as soon as it stiffens up, its likely to become painful.  And when the joints stiffen up, forces are transferred to adjacent joints in the foot that quickly then become overloaded too. It is a slippery slope. Getting on top of this early, having a diagnosis and implementing a solid management plan as early as possible gives you the best chance of a positive outcome long term.

Build muscle strength and maintain function…and don’t forget the small ones!

Strength of the big muscles of the ankle such as the calf, tibialis posterior and the peroneals are all important and need to be included in any strength program. Yet the latest research shows us that perhaps what is equally important is the small intrinsic muscles that support the arch of the foot.  In our patients, getting these muscles working has made the world of difference to their symptoms and greatly improved their quality of life.

Understand and optimise the function of your foot and ankle

In the early stages of arthritis, it is really important to get a detailed understanding of foot function. A 3d gait analysis like what we provide in the TBL Complex Foot & Ankle clinic provides the ability to understand how the joints of your feet adapt to the forces applied to them when you walk.  Treatment is most successful if high forces are moved away from pain, stiff and swollen joints. And we have a range of options on how to do this including strengthening,  taping, footwear and orthotics.

Although we try to use conservative treatment options as first point of call, sometimes small surgical procedures are required to tidy up the joint and keep them moving freely. Most people will not need an operation, but in those that would benefit, they should not be afraid of surgery if it is indicated as recovery times are general quite fast. We work very closely with a range of foot and ankle surgeons and can organise an opinion for any patient who needs one.

Joint Fusion Surgery

At the very end stage of arthritis, we know the symptoms are quite debilitating. The pain is high and as a result, there is a loss of function of the foot. And in some cases, this can’t be offset. Even with the best shoes, orthotics and exercises. This is when joint fusion surgery is often required. This is a big operation, yet with the right rehabilitation, most patients do return to some level of pain free function and exercise.

To reinforce, the diagnosis of arthritis in your foot is not a death sentence. Many patients live to have a very healthy, active and fulfilling life. And the key to this is early intervention. Get the right advice early, keep moving and you will reap the benefits long term.

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