What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy joints. RA causes inflammation in the lining (synovium) of joints, most often the joints of the hands and feet. The signs of inflammation can include pain, swelling, redness, and a feeling of warmth around affected joints. In some patients, chronic inflammation results in damage to the cartilage and bones in the joint.
Foot problems caused by RA commonly occur in the forefoot, and include, in addition to the abnormal appearance of deformities, pain, swelling, joint stiffness, and difficulty walking.
RA is diagnosed on the basis of a clinical examination as well as blood tests.
To further evaluate the patient’s foot and ankle problems, the surgeon may order x-rays and/or other imaging tests.
While treatment of RA focuses on the medication prescribed by a patient’s primary doctor or rheumatologist, the foot and ankle surgeon will develop a treatment plan aimed at relieving the pain of RA-related foot problems. The plan may include orthotic therapy, accommodative shoes, aspiration of joint fluid, or steroid injections.
When is Surgery Needed?
When RA produces pain and deformity in the foot that is not relieved through other treatments, surgery may be required. The foot and ankle surgeon will select the procedure best suited to the patient’s condition and lifestyle.