Is Your Foot Pain a Symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis? (2022)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can strike any part of your body, and that includes your feet. In fact, foot inflammation and pain is an early symptom for many people.

Foot symptoms in RA can take many forms. You may have pain in the joints or constant aching. You may also have pain in your ligaments, which are the bands of tissue that connect your bones to each other. Symptoms are often worse after standing for a long time, walking, or running.

For some people with RA, the onset of foot pain is gradual. For others, it is immediate. At some point, though, most people with RA find that foot joint pain makes it very painful to walk.

This article will discuss foot pain as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. It will also describe some of the strategies you can use to manage foot pain when you have RA.

Is Your Foot Pain a Symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis? (1)

How RA Affects Feet

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. When you have RA, your immune system tries to destroy the lining of your joints, called synovium. It also attacks the fluid in your joints, called synovial fluid. It does this because it mistakes these parts of your body for disease-causing invaders.

RA causes damage and inflammation that makes your joints swell and feel warm. The small joints, like those in the feet, are the most common targets of these attacks.

Eventually, long-term inflammation thickens the synovium. This causes cartilage and bone to wear away. In the feet and toes, the joints may become deformed. This leads to poor range of motion and considerable pain. Walking, standing, and even wearing shoes can become difficult.

Proper treatment may help reduce the damage and inflammation to your foot joints. It may also prevent or delay deformities and other problems.

Explaining Autoimmunity

Is It RA or Osteoarthritis?

When you first notice foot pain, you may wonder if it's osteoarthritis (OA). OA is also known as wear-and-tear arthritis, and it is more common than rheumatoid arthritis.

There is no clear-cut way to tell if you have OA or RA without a medical diagnosis. But OA and RA do have some key differences.

RA Foot Pain

(Video) Rheumatoid Arthritis - Signs & Symptoms | Johns Hopkins Medicine

  • Usually affects both feet at once

  • Morning stiffness generally lasts longer than half an hour

OA Foot Pain

  • Most often affects only one foot

  • Stiffness tends to be easier to relieve in the morning, often getting better in less than half an hour or with a few minutes of stretching

RA and Foot Deformities

In the feet, rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints of the toes. These are the joints that connect your toes to your feet.

RA can cause serious foot deformities. This is especially true if it goes untreated.

  • Lateral drift: Over time, the toes may "drift" outward, toward the little toe. This is sometimes called a lateral drift or lateral deviation. It looks like the toes are leaning.
  • Bunions: The feet may develop bunions (hallux valgus). These are painful bony lumps on the side of the foot by the big toe.
  • Contractures: RA may also cause your forefoot to shift. This can lead to contractures. A contracture is a permanent shortening of muscles or tendons in your toes. A well-known type of contracture is hammertoes. In this condition, the toe is permanently flexed and curled under. Contractures can lead tocalluses and pain under the ball of the foot.
  • Flat feet: The talonavicular joint, which is part of the foot's arch, can become destabilized. When this happens, the arch may collapse.

All these changes to a foot's structure and shape can make finding a comfortable shoe more difficult.

Other Foot Problems in RA

People with RA can have foot symptoms that aren't related to deformities. This is because the disease can impact almost any joint in the foot.

Heel Pain

This is a common recurring problem for people with RA. It can occur at the back or underside of the heel.

Inflammation in the feet may lead to conditions associated with heel pain, including:

  • Plantar fasciitis, also called heel spur syndrome, which causes pain in the heel and the bottom of your arch
  • Achilles tendonitis, inflammation of the tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel
  • Retrocalcaneal bursitis, when a fluid-filled sac (bursa) behind the heel bone, becomes inflamed and causes pain and swelling

Nerve Entrapment Syndromes

When RA inflames the synovium, the swelling can compress nerves. One example of this is tarsal tunnel syndrome. This causes burning, tingling, or shooting pain in the foot's arch and sole.

Rheumatoid Nodules

A rheumatoid nodule is a lump beneath the skin. It usually appears over a tendon or a bone located just below the skin's surface.

In the foot, a rheumatoid nodule may appear over the Achilles tendon. If a bunion is present, it may also appear on the side of the big toe.

Skin Rashes

Inflammation caused by RA can affect small blood vessels. This may lead to rashes or sores on the lower legs and feet.

Splinter hemorrhages are also possible. These are small areas of broken blood vessels on the sides of your toenails or fingernails.

(Video) Arthritis in the foot (big toe) || What it feels like & why it happens

Recap

RA can cause foot deformities and other types of foot problems, including heel pain, nerve pain, nodules on the bones and tendons, and skin rashes.

Managing Foot Pain in RA

Getting treatment for RA can help relieve your foot pain and prevent deformities. This usually involves prescription medications to stop the immune system from attacking your joints.

You may also need to find other ways to manage your foot pain and cope with deformities.

Common strategies include:

  • Rest
  • Icing
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid injections
  • Braces
  • Therapeutic footwear, or special shoes designed for people with RA
  • Foot orthotics, shoe inserts that can help provide support and reduce pain
  • Occupational therapy, which can help you with daily activities

The success of these strategies will depend on which joints are affected and to what degree. If these approaches don't work, you may need to consider surgery. Deformities like bunions and hammertoes can often be surgically treated.

For some cases, a doctor can fuse bones that form a joint. This involves connecting bones together permanently, which limits motion and reduces pain. Depending on which bones are fused, you may or may not notice the loss of motion.

Recap

RA treatment can help improve foot-related symptoms and prevent deformities. Other strategies include pain control with NSAIDs, steroid injections, therapeutic footwear, occupational therapy, and sometimes surgery.

How Flat Feet or Pes Planus Can Be Treated

Summary

People with RA may have symptoms that include pain in the foot joints and ligaments. Left untreated, RA may lead to foot deformities.

RA may also cause heel pain, burning and tingling pain in the arch or sole, nodules, and skin rashes.

RA treatment can help relieve foot pain, and additional strategies like special footwear, anti-inflammatory medication, and occupational therapy may also help. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

A Word From Verywell

Not everyone with RA will develop foot problems. Still, the majority of people with RA do have at least some foot-related symptoms.

The most important thing to remember is that you have a lot of options. Medication may help, and conservative treatments can make a big difference in managing all aspects of the disease.

Your rheumatologist will work with you to relieve your pain and inflammation, halt joint damage, and improve your sense of well-being. Having a good relationship with your rheumatologist will ensure the best outcomes possible through the course of your disease.

(Video) Arch Nemesis- Rheumatoid Arthritis & Your Feet

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does RA affect toes and feet?

    Rheumatoid arthritis affects the tissue that lines the joints, causing them to swell and become painful and warm to the touch. Small joints in the feet are common targets.Over time, chronic inflammation can cause cartilage and bones to erode, leading to deformities in the feet and toes.

  • How can you tell the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in the foot?

    The main differences are that osteoarthritis typically only affects one foot, while rheumatoid arthritis affects both feet.In both OA and RA, pain and stiffness are greatest in the morning. While OA pain usually resolves within a half-hour of getting out of bed, RA morning pain lasts longer.

  • How do you ease RA foot pain?

    Rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are commonly used to ease pain early in the course of RA.As the disease becomes more advanced, prescription medications and steroid injections may be needed to manage pain. Occupational therapy, orthotics, braces, or therapeutic footwear can also provide relief.

    In more advanced cases, surgery may be needed to correct deformities from RA or fuse bones together to reduce motion that causes pain.

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(Video) When Arthritis Affects the Foot and Ankle

4 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle.

    (Video) Inflammatory arthritis of the feet

  2. Pujalte GG, Albano-Aluquin SA. Differential diagnosis of polyarticular arthritis.Am Fam Physician. 2015;92(1):35‐41.

  3. Arthritis Foundation. Joint deformities in rheumatoid arthritis.

  4. Jung SM, Ahn JH, Park SH, Park KS. Unusual metatarsophalangeal joint deformity in an advanced rheumatoid foot. Korean J Intern Med. 2014;29(3):402–403. doi:10.3904/kjim.2014.29.3.402

FAQs

Is Your Foot Pain a Symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis? ›

Foot pain often occurs in the joints or ball of the foot. In fact, for about 20 percent of people with RA, foot and ankle issues are the first symptom of rheumatoid arthritis, according to AAOS. Surgery is often needed to alleviate the pain associated with bunions, hammertoes, and nodules, according to AAOS.

How do you know if you have rheumatoid arthritis in your feet? ›

Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis that you may experience in your feet can vary from soreness, warmth and swelling (a flare) of one or more foot joints that last a few days or longer, through to joint erosions, with joint instability, pain and associated changing foot shape.

Does rheumatoid arthritis cause foot pain? ›

RA symptoms in the feet can vary widely, including: pain or stiffness in the toe joints or in the joints and ligaments throughout the foot. persistent aching or soreness in the feet, especially after walking, running, or standing for long periods of time.

Where is foot pain with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

With RA, the ligaments that support the midfoot become weakened and the arch collapses. With loss of the arch, the foot commonly collapses and the front of the foot points outward. RA also damages the cartilage, causing arthritic pain that is present with or without shoes.

How do I know if my foot pain is arthritis? ›

Symptoms of arthritis in your feet
  1. Pain when you move your feet or ankles.
  2. Tenderness when you touch affected joints.
  3. Swelling or redness of affected joints.
  4. Difficulty standing or putting pressure on your feet.
  5. Pain or swelling even when at rest.

What helps rheumatoid arthritis pain in the feet? ›

In addition to the right footwear, pain medications, and surgery, there are things you can do to reduce foot pain from rheumatoid arthritis:
  1. Change your exercise of choice. ...
  2. Work with a podiatrist. ...
  3. Buy shoes you will actually wear. ...
  4. Listen to your feet. ...
  5. Take the load off. ...
  6. Lose weight. ...
  7. Check your feet daily for problems.
May 28, 2021

How do you treat RA in your feet? ›

Orthotics (shoe inserts) can relieve pressure on the foot, making standing and walking less painful. Orthotics tend to be most useful for people who have RA symptoms at the front or midfoot. Soft, custom-made shoe inserts can be expensive, but may be paid for by insurance.

Can RA make it hard to walk? ›

Advanced rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impair your walking ability and cause difficulties in your day-to-day activities. It is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the body's immune system attacks the healthy joints and surrounding tissue, causing them to swell.

Does rheumatoid arthritis hurt all the time? ›

A person with RA may feel intense pain in their joints during flares. This may feel like sustained pressure, a burning sensation, or a sharp pain. However, people with RA may also experience periods of remission when they feel few to no symptoms. In addition to causing pain in the joints, RA can affect the whole body.

What does arthritis in the feet feel like? ›

Symptoms of foot and ankle arthritis often involve the following: Tenderness or pain. Reduced ability to move or walk. Stiffness in the joint.

What do rheumatoid feet look like? ›

Middle of the foot

With flat foot, the shape of the entire foot begins to shift. Some people with RA develop large, bony bumps, corns, or calluses on the ball of the foot. These can be painful and make it very difficult to find comfortable footwear. Special shoe inserts can help improve the arch.

Are Compression Socks good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Compression socks may lessen the symptoms of arthritis by applying mild pressure to affected joints, which can help with inflammation and swelling.

What type of arthritis affects the feet? ›

There are many types of arthritis, but arthritis in the foot and ankle is usually one of three types: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or post-traumatic arthritis. Osteoarthritis, often called “wear and tear” arthritis, develops most often in people over age 50.

How do I know if my foot pain is serious? ›

Seek immediate medical attention if you:
  1. Have severe pain or swelling.
  2. Have an open wound or a wound that is oozing pus.
  3. Have signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and tenderness in the affected area or you have a fever over 100 F (37.8 C)
  4. Are unable to walk or put weight on your foot.

What is the best pain reliever for foot pain? ›

Oral analgesic medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) or aspirin are often the first line choice for quick relief of foot pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are also often recommended and can help to reduce inflammation at the same time.

What is the best medication for RA? ›

Methotrexate is usually the first medicine given for rheumatoid arthritis, often with another DMARD and a short course of steroids (corticosteroids) to relieve any pain. These may be combined with biological treatments.
...
The DMARDs that may be used include:
  • methotrexate.
  • leflunomide.
  • hydroxychloroquine.
  • sulfasalazine.

What kind of shoes are good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

There's a host of shoe manufacturers known for being an especially good fit for people who have arthritis. Clark's, Vionic, Orthofeet, and Klogs are some of the brands both recommended by members the CreakyJoints community and approved by the foot experts we talked to. Mephisto, Drew, and Ecco are other good options.

Is a foot massager good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Addressing sore joints, tendons, and other connective tissue can help promote relaxation and circulation for improved overall joint health. Great home options include massage balls and foot massagers (with possibilities like shiatsu kneading and heat for maximal comfort and results).

What should you not do if you have rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Foods You Should Avoid with Rheumatoid Arthritis
  1. Grilled, broiled, or fried meats (and other fried foods). ...
  2. Fatty foods full of omega-6 fatty acids. ...
  3. Sugars and refined carbohydrates. ...
  4. Gluten. ...
  5. Preservatives and flavor enhancers. ...
  6. Alcohol.
Sep 26, 2018

Is there a blood test for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

No blood test can definitively prove or rule out a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, but several tests can show indications of the condition. Some of the main blood tests used include: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – which can help assess levels of inflammation in the body.

How fast does rheumatoid arthritis progress? ›

Clinical History. The typical case of rheumatoid arthritis begins insidiously, with the slow development of signs and symptoms over weeks to months. Often the patient first notices stiffness in one or more joints, usually accompanied by pain on movement and by tenderness in the joint.

What are the worst symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Signs and symptoms of RA include:
  • Pain or aching in more than one joint.
  • Stiffness in more than one joint.
  • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint.
  • The same symptoms on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees)
  • Weight loss.
  • Fever.
  • Fatigue or tiredness.
  • Weakness.

What time of day is rheumatoid arthritis worse? ›

The joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis is usually a throbbing and aching pain. It is often worse in the mornings and after a period of inactivity.

What is considered severe rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Once RA has progressed to stage 3, it's considered severe. At this point, damage extends not only to the cartilage but also to the bones themselves. Since the cushion between bones is worn away, they'll rub together. There may be more pain and swelling.

Why are my feet so painful? ›

Injury, overuse or conditions causing inflammation involving any of the bones, ligaments or tendons in the foot can cause foot pain. Arthritis is a common cause of foot pain. Injury to the nerves of the feet may result in intense burning pain, numbness or tingling (peripheral neuropathy).

Where does arthritis affect the feet? ›

Common areas affected by osteoarthritis are the foot joints that involve the heel bone, the outer mid-foot bone, and the inner mid-foot bone. When these joints are affected, it may be difficult for your foot to bear weight. If your feet hurt, you're less likely to use them.

Is walking good for arthritis in the feet? ›

Walking is one of the most important things you can do if you have arthritis. It helps you lose weight or maintain the proper weight. That, in turn, lessens stress on joints and improves arthritis symptoms.

What is worse rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis? ›

The two conditions can cause similar symptoms, but they have different causes and treatments. OA usually affects fewer joints, and its symptoms are generally limited to the joints. The progression of RA is more difficult to predict, and it can cause more widespread symptoms.

Can an xray show the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Can an X-ray show the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis? X-rays are a helpful tool for figuring out joint pain. Joints in RA look different than joints in OA. For example, there's less space between the bones in OA, and there is more bone erosion in RA.

How do you keep your feet warm when you have arthritis? ›

If you need to keep your feet warm on the move, portability is key. Foot warmers like insoles or heated socks are the most versatile. You can wear them with any footwear and easily swap them out if you feel overheated.

Are heated socks good for arthritis? ›

Heated Socks

Arthritis responds well to heat treatment. Specifically, local heat application can reduce pain while improving mobility. 3 This is especially important for people who have arthritis and live in cold environments since the heat from the socks can reduce the impact of climate on arthritis.

Can socks help with foot pain? ›

Using compression socks

Compression socks work by putting pressure on the soles of your feet and, in some cases, your calves. This helps improve blood flow and reduce swelling. They may also decrease inflammation and help reduce pain caused by plantar fasciitis.

Is arthritis in the foot a disability? ›

Many people may wonder is arthritis a disability. Yes. Arthritis can prompt incapacity, as can numerous other mental and physical conditions. If your arthritis confines your daily movements, or activities you may qualify for disability benefits.

Can foot pain be related to heart problems? ›

Burning or Swelling in the Feet

Sensations of burning or visible swelling could indicate kidney, heart or circulatory problems. Foot Pain and burning in the feet is an indication that your circulation is not functioning well.

Why do the bottoms of my feet hurt? ›

Pain in the bottom of your foot is often caused by exercise, such as running, wearing shoes that are too tight or a condition, such as Morton's neuroma. Some people also have a foot shape that puts extra pressure on the bottom of the foot. Hard or cracked skin or a verruca can also cause this type of pain.

How long should foot pain last? ›

Foot problems can cause a range of symptoms including pain, swelling and limping. In many cases, new or flare-up of long-standing foot problems should begin to settle within 6 weeks without the need to see a healthcare professional.

What are three of the newest drugs for arthritis pain? ›

The newest drugs for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, which are FDA approved under the brand names Rinvoq, Olumiant, and Xeljanz.

What do rheumatoid feet look like? ›

Middle of the foot

With flat foot, the shape of the entire foot begins to shift. Some people with RA develop large, bony bumps, corns, or calluses on the ball of the foot. These can be painful and make it very difficult to find comfortable footwear. Special shoe inserts can help improve the arch.

What does arthritis in the feet feel like? ›

Foot and Ankle Arthritis Symptoms

Pain when you move it. Trouble moving, walking, or putting weight on it. Joint stiffness, warmth, or swelling. More pain and swelling after you rest, such as sitting or sleeping.

What are the 4 stages of rheumatoid arthritis? ›

The four stages of rheumatoid arthritis are known as synovitis, pannus, fibrous ankylosis, and bony ankylosis.
  • Stage I: Synovitis. During stage I, you may start having mild symptoms, including joint pain and joint stiffness. ...
  • Stage II: Pannus. ...
  • Stage III: Fibrous Ankylosis. ...
  • Stage IV: Bony Ankylosis.
Oct 12, 2021

Is walking good for arthritis in the feet? ›

Walking is one of the most important things you can do if you have arthritis. It helps you lose weight or maintain the proper weight. That, in turn, lessens stress on joints and improves arthritis symptoms.

Can a blood test detect rheumatoid arthritis? ›

No blood test can definitively prove or rule out a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, but several tests can show indications of the condition. Some of the main blood tests used include: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – which can help assess levels of inflammation in the body.

Can RA make it hard to walk? ›

Advanced rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impair your walking ability and cause difficulties in your day-to-day activities. It is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the body's immune system attacks the healthy joints and surrounding tissue, causing them to swell.

How quickly does rheumatoid arthritis spread? ›

Clinical History. The typical case of rheumatoid arthritis begins insidiously, with the slow development of signs and symptoms over weeks to months. Often the patient first notices stiffness in one or more joints, usually accompanied by pain on movement and by tenderness in the joint.

How do I know if my foot pain is serious? ›

Seek immediate medical attention if you:
  1. Have severe pain or swelling.
  2. Have an open wound or a wound that is oozing pus.
  3. Have signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and tenderness in the affected area or you have a fever over 100 F (37.8 C)
  4. Are unable to walk or put weight on your foot.

Why are my feet so painful? ›

Injury, overuse or conditions causing inflammation involving any of the bones, ligaments or tendons in the foot can cause foot pain. Arthritis is a common cause of foot pain. Injury to the nerves of the feet may result in intense burning pain, numbness or tingling (peripheral neuropathy).

What is the best pain reliever for foot pain? ›

Oral analgesic medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) or aspirin are often the first line choice for quick relief of foot pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are also often recommended and can help to reduce inflammation at the same time.

What aggravates rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Certain foods and additives are believed to increase inflammation in the body, such as sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, omega-6 fatty acids, refined carbohydrates, monosodium glutamate (MSG), gluten, aspartame, and alcohol.

What is the root cause of rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means it's caused by the immune system attacking healthy body tissue. However, it's not yet known what triggers this. Your immune system normally makes antibodies that attack bacteria and viruses, helping to fight infection.

Does RA count as a disability? ›

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers RA a disability if a person meets the following eligibility criteria: the person's condition is so severe that they will need to be out of work for 12 months or more. the person has gained enough work credits to qualify for disability benefits.

What are the best shoes to wear if you have arthritis in your feet? ›

The Best Shoe Brands for Arthritis

Clark's, Vionic, Orthofeet, and Klogs are some of the brands both recommended by members the CreakyJoints community and approved by the foot experts we talked to. Mephisto, Drew, and Ecco are other good options.

Should you push through arthritis pain? ›

Stay active, when you can

On the whole, the answer is "keep moving." Your joints were made to move. They need movement to nourish the joint and keep the muscles around the joint strong and limber. Doctors encourage their patients with arthritis to be as active as they can—as long as it isn't exacerbating joint pain.

Is Soaking in Epsom salt good for arthritis? ›

Reduce soreness and pain

An Epsom salt bath may provide pain relief and reduce swelling in people living with certain types of inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, and psoriatic arthritis. Low levels of magnesium can ease the pain in people with arthritis.

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