Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Foot and Ankle

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease where certain cells of the immune system malfunction, attacking healthy joints. RA causes inflammation of the synovium (lining) of the joints, usually of the hands and feet. Signs of inflammation include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth around the affected joints. 

Effects of RA on the Foot and Ankle
When joints become inflamed as a result of RA, the synovium thickens and produces more joint fluid than normal. This influx of fluid, in tandem with inflammatory chemicals released by the immune system, cause swelling and damage to the joint's cartilage and bones. Foot problems caused by RA usually happen in the ball of the foot, though they can also occur in the ankle or other areas. Usually, symptoms of RA-related foot problems include pain, swelling, joint stiffness, and difficulty walking. RA can also cause other conditions and deformities, including:

  • Rheumatoid nodules that cause pain when stepped on or rubbed against with shoes
  • Dislocated toes
  • Hammertoes
  • Bunions
  • Heel pain
  • Achilles tendon pain
  • Flatfoot
  • Ankle pain

Most often, a patient who is experiencing foot-related RA symptoms has already been diagnosed with RA. If not, your podiatrist will perform a thorough examination of your foot and health history, as well as conduct blood tests, x-rays, and/or other imaging studies.