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Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States, particularly people over the age of 50. Though arthritis can affect any joint within your body, your feet (which contain 33 joints each), are particularly susceptible to the disease.

Although arthritis cannot be cured, there are several treatment options available to reduce pain and improve mobility. Early diagnosis and treatment can allow people with arthritis to live active, productive lifestyles.

Causes of arthritis

Arthritis literally means "pain within a joint." It causes inflammation of the cartilage that lines the joints, producing pain and limited mobility. The risk of developing arthritis tends to increase with age, but a number of factors, including the following, can cause arthritic foot pain: 

  • Age: Your body's ability to heal itself decreases with age, and over the years, normal wear and tear can break down the cartilage and lining of your joints. 
  • Disorders: Bacterial and viral infections and prescription drugs can trigger the immune system to attack the joints, which may lead to rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Family History: Heredity does seem to be a risk factor for arthritis. If a close family member suffers from arthritic foot pain, it increases your risk of developing the disease. 
  • Injury: Fractures and other foot injuries that damage the surface of a joint can put you at an increased risk of developing arthritis later in life. 
  • Obesity: Additional weight on your feet can speed up the deterioration of cartilage in your joints.

Arthritis symptoms

Symptoms of arthritis will vary depending on which of the many joints in your feet and ankles are affected.

Common signs and symptoms include: 

  • Difficulty walking.
  • Limited motion of the joint (particularly in the morning).
  • Pain or tenderness. 
  • Redness or rashes. 
  • Swelling of the joint.
  • Warm sensation near the joint.

Treatment of arthritis

Treatment of arthritis in your feet should address both the pain associated with the disease and the condition of the joints.

Conservative treatment options may include: 

  • Anti-inflammatory medications. 
  • Orthotics. 
  • Physical therapy. 
  • Steroid injections. 
  • Weight loss.

Surgery may be necessary if conservative treatment options are not effective. Surgical treatment options can include joint replacement, fusion of the joints, and arthroscopic debridement (cleaning of the joint).

Consult a foot doctor to learn more about the different treatment options available for arthritis of the feet and ankles.

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