Types of Arthritis Affecting the Foot

What kind of arthritis most often shows up in the joints of the foot?

Fingers that are gnarled and misshapen and surgeries to replace knee and hip joints are what we most often associate with arthritis these days. While those are common areas for the development of this debilitating condition, arthritis is an equal opportunity disease that seeks to set up shop in joints throughout the body. This includes the feet.

As arthritis begins to develop in the joints of the feet, abnormal bone growth can be triggered. The creation of bone spurs is one example. Another form of degenerative arthritis in the feet is hallux rigidus, which is the Latin for “stiff big toe”. In this case, arthritis attacks the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the big toe, causing it to stiffen up and become hard to move. As you can imagine, walking, running, jumping or simply standing up can all become difficult. 

Once joints start to stiffen and abnormal bone growth takes place, there is a good chance of more problems to come. Balance and gait will be affected when you walk. This can place extra pressure on certain toes, giving birth to bunions, corns, calluses and even hammertoes

Types of Arthritis That Affect the Feet

In the human foot, there are more than 30 joints, which means there are a lot of locations for arthritis to develop. The three types of arthritis that most often affect the feet are osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and posttraumatic arthritis (PTA). 

  • Osteoarthritis — this is the type of arthritis that we are most familiar with because it is the most common. As we age, the cartilage that prevents the bones in our joints from rubbing together begins to break down and deteriorate. Understandably, this typically leads to pain, swelling and impaired range of motion. The base of the big toe is a favorite site for OA, which is often ignored because it develops gradually over a long period of time. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that something causes the immune system to malfunction and attack parts of the body that it was designed to protect. There is typically some kind of trigger that puts the process in motion. There is no cure for arthritis of any kind so the cumulative damage of chronic RA can be considerable. One way it differs from osteoarthritis is that it manifests symmetrically, affecting the same joints on each side of the body at the same time.   
  • Posttraumatic arthritis — the saying about old injuries coming back to haunt us could well have started with posttraumatic arthritis. It may take years to show up, but whenever we injure a joint, the chances of arthritis developing in that joint become about seven times more likely due to the damage to the protective cartilage. 

While there may not, currently, be a cure for arthritis in the feet, there are a variety of treatment options. Your orthopedist will be able to recommend what is most appropriate for your particular condition. 

If you have questions about arthritis or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.