Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. Although the reason is still largely unknown, the body begins attacking its own joints, leading to pain, swelling, and deformation. Luckily, these symptoms can be well managed with the right medical treatment, including effective home treatment options for the foot.
How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the body?
Which joints are affected and most problematic varies with each person. However, the hands and feet are the most common areas to be affected. Since our hands and feet are critical for completing almost all daily tasks, RA can lead to a significant decrease in quality of life. Because of this, RA is also associated with depression in addition to general feelings of fatigue and malaise. Fortunately, rheumatoid arthritis tends to begin slowly and progress with time. With the right initial attention and treatment, the progression of this disease can be significantly slowed.
Non-surgical home treatment options.
- Strengthening and stretching. Rheumatoid arthritis puts the foot and ankle at high risk for deformation due to compromised tissue quality and inflammation. A well-balanced home program that addresses strength, coordination, and flexibility of the foot and ankle can help manage symptoms and prevent the risk of further complication.
- Hot and cold therapy. Alternating heat and cold throughout your day (for up to twenty minutes at a time) can help promote relaxation, pain relief, and circulation for optimal foot function. Be cautious with using heat on severely inflamed joints. Start with a small amount of time (around five minutes) and see how it goes before progressing. Also, consider ending your treatment sessions with ice to ultimately help minimize swelling.
- Massage therapy. 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). Having foot massagers are extra crucial with RA, since self-massage will most likely be limited due to pain and swelling in the hands as well.
- Foot support. Proper foot support via high quality shoes and/or orthotics can help prevent and support deformities of the foot. There are a lot of different options on the market, so it’s about finding what is comfortable and provides the most function. Talk to a foot specialist, such as a podiatrist or orthopedic doctor, about your options.
- Physical therapy. If you are unsure where to start with any of the home treatment options above, a physical therapist can help you develop a personalized program. With an in depth lifestyle assessment and physical exam, they can help you optimize your foot function and minimize your pain.
Other treatment options.
A lot of the time, home treatments just aren’t enough with RA. If pain is severe or the foot is developing significant deformities, there are more invasive options available. These options include surgery to correct deformities, injections for pain relief and reduced inflammation, and prescribed medications. Medication can be prescribed to address pain, fatigue, depression, slow the progress of the disease, reduce inflammation, and more. Be aware that these options can be helpful but do come with significantly higher risks of side effects than less invasive home options (when possible).
Improve your quality of life.
Currently, there is unfortunately no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, the key with RA is to optimally manage your symptoms while preventing further complications. Having the knowledge and taking the time to take care of yourself at home can help minimize your need for more invasive treatments and help you get the most of your days.