Rheumatoid Arthritis causing Heel Pain
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune condition that results in mild to severe inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.
Over time, cartilage in the joints and soft tissues in the foot can erode or deform, leading to dislocations, the development of nodules, and pain while walking or moving. A staggering 90 percent of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers ultimately seek medical care for pain in the foot or heel that is caused by this deterioration combined with the everyday impact of walking or standing.
How Is Plantar Fasciitis Related to Arthritis?
The arch of the foot (or Plantar Fascia) is responsible for distributing the body’s weight properly and absorbing the impact of physical activity. When this arch deteriorates or becomes inflamed through injury or overuse, Plantar Fasciitis (or Plantar Fasciosis) often develops.
Many forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, can make a person more susceptible to developing Plantar Fasciitis. The fatty pad of the heel that helps protect and cushion the plantar fascia may erode or shift as rheumatoid arthritis progresses. In other cases, structures in the ankles, calves, and legs that support the arch may erode or shift, placing additional strain and impact on the arch. And the hallmark inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis can lead to small tears and degradation of the plantar fascia itself, causing the arch to flatten and fall.
Since individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis may suffer from a whole host of aches and pains throughout the body, heel pain is often dismissed as yet another symptom of RA. However, by recognizing the symptoms of plantar fasciitis for what they are, it’s possible to support and cushion the compromised arch and make walking and moving much less painful.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis
If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to keep a close eye on symptoms that may point to Plantar Fasciitis. The sooner the damaged arch is treated, the sooner relief is possible. Keep an eye on the following symptoms:
- Pain along the underside of the foot that is worst first thing in the morning and may improve as you walk around
- Redness or swelling along the bottom and sides of the foot
- Heel pain that may come on gradually or strike suddenly
- Pain that may decrease somewhat as you begin moving around, only to return later in the day.
- Foot pain that has lasted for more than a few days, or which you experience periodically over months or years.
- Pain in just one foot (although it is possible to have Plantar Fasciitis in both feet).
- Limping or difficulty standing and walking with the affected foot
Plantar Fasciitis can go undiagnosed in rheumatoid arthritis patients for far too long, since many of the symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis mimic the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and may perform X-rays to rule out possible fractures.
It’s also important to understand that heel pain may be an early sign of rheumatoid arthritis itself. In some case, pain in the heel, ankle, or ball of the foot can be early indicators of this autoimmune disorder. If your symptoms of swelling, inflammation, or stiffness aren’t just localized to the heel or foot, or if you’re also experiencing fatigue or fever, it’s important to seek medical attention.
Other Foot Conditions That Affect Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers
While Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common foot conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis, it isn’t the only one.
Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are also prone to corns and bunions, as the bones and tissues in the foot shift and the gait changes, placing pressure on different areas of the foot. Corns are small, hard protrusions that develop as a result of friction and pressure. Bunions are a condition in which the big toe crosses with the second toe. Both conditions can make walking or wearing shoes more difficult.
Rheumatoid arthritis is also strongly associated with claw or hammer toes, in which the toes curl inward and become very stiff. Pain the ball of the foot, or metatarsalgia, is another common condition for RA sufferers.
Most of these conditions, like Plantar Fasciitis, can be significantly improved with conservative, at-home treatments:
Treating Heel Pain Alongside Rheumatoid Arthritis
While rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term struggle for most people, heel pain can often be significantly improved. Keep the following tips for treatment in mind as you manage your RA alongside symptoms of heel or foot pain:
Orthotics: Orthotics are one of the best ways to gently cushion and support the arch, lifting it to an ideal height for bearing weight. Steer clear of cheap grocery store orthotics, and opt for insoles made especially for Plantar Fasciitis. For especially painful or sensitive feet, Gel Heel Seats can be especially helpful.
Heel Wraps: Wearing shoes can be painful for individuals with corns or bunions. Wrapping the heels can support the arch while allowing for sandals or bare feet.
Icing: Icing can temporarily calm inflamed and irritated tissue in the plantar fascia by numbing and blocking the pain signals from nerves
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: It’s important to clear any medications you’re taking with your doctor or rheumatologist, but NSAIDS like Aleve or Ibuprofen can help with heel pain strikes.
Rest: Spending enough time off your feet can be difficult with the demands of life, work, and family, but it is one of the best ways to help the plantar fascia heal.
Stretching: A routine of gentle stretching, twice per day for 20 minutes, can improve the strength, flexibility, and integrity of your foot muscles and surrounding tissue, and may help your RA as well!
Night Splints: Wearing a night splint can both relieve morning pain from Plantar Fasciitis and help slow foot deformation from rheumatoid arthritis for some patients.
Remember, it’s important to stay in close touch with your doctor or rheumatologist while you manage your symptoms from RA alongside symptoms of heel or foot pain.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis isn’t easy. But for most individuals with RA, heel pain from Plantar Fasciitis can be improved and managed with these conservative treatment options along with your doctor’s care and expertise.