Feet and Arthritis

The foot can be affected by different types of Arthritis. Foot problems can include, for example; swelling, pain, joint deformity, calluses and reduced sensation. Wearing correct footwear is crucial in preventing foot problems and keeping you active. Treatment and care of the foot affected by arthritis may be a multi-disciplinary effort involving a podiatrist, GP, rheumatologist and a surgeon.

Common problems

Common problems associated with arthritis in the feet are swelling, pain, loss of flexibility and movement, joint deformity, thinning of the skin and loss of protective skin layers. The circulation and sensation to the foot may be decreased and sometimes there is an increased risk of infection and pressure sores. Bunions, hammer-toes, corns and calluses may form and sometimes the arch height will change. Finding suitable footwear may be a problem.

Care of your feet

Good foot care includes:

  • wash and dry the feet carefully, particularly in-between the toes. Apply moisturiser to dry skin
  • keep toenails clean, short and trimmed. Cut or file your nails following the shape of the toe. Do not cut down the sides or corners as this may lead to ‘ingrown toenails.’ File sharp edges
  • choose socks that are not too tight around your foot or ankle and that have smooth seams that will not rub your toes
  • visit a professional to have corns and hard layers of skin removed.


Regular exercise helps to reduce pain and improve function by maintaining flexibility and movement. Walking is the best form of exercise because it places less stress on the joints. T’ai Chi helps to develop good lower limb tone, posture and balance, which means less strain on the feet. Other beneficial forms of exercise include swimming and dancing.

Ankle and foot exercises can help to maintain flexibility and strengthen the joints. Try to exercise your ankles and point your toes before you get out of bed, while watching TV, or when sitting for long periods of time; another useful exercise is curling your toes while keeping your heel and toes in contact with the ground.


Everyday footwear is often unsuitable for the arthritic foot. Prescription or alternative footwear (such as sport shoes) can reduce pain and the likelihood of pressure areas. Cushioned footwear can relieve the pain caused by the foot having lost its natural protection.

Wearing correct-fitting footwear is crucial in preventing foot problems. Every time new shoes are purchased they should be fitted, as size and shape vary with different brands. The size printed on the shoe is less important than how it ‘feels.’

An adult’s foot should be able to slide forward 1cm in the shoe. For children this should be 1.8cm to allow for growth. The heel should be firm and there should be enough room to wiggle the toes.

Important footwear features

When buying shoes bear these points in mind:

  • good quality running shoes are light, effectively absorb load and are usually wide fitting
  • shoes with adjustable fastenings, such as laces or Velcro, allow for expansion if swelling occurs. Avoid shoes with bulky seams
  • regular laces may be difficult for stiff fingers and elastic laces are a good alternative. It is also possible to purchase ‘self-tying’ laces that wrap around themselves
  • flat, wide heels provide cushioning and assist with balance. The higher the heel, the more weight is thrown onto the toe joints.