Rheumatoid arthritis of the feet: symptoms and treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects many joints throughout the body, including the feet. RA is an autoimmune disease; it develops when your immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis in the feet causes pain, swelling, limited movement, and difficulty with daily tasks.

This article discusses RA in the feet, including symptoms, complications, and treatment.

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Symptoms of RA in the Feet

There are 26 bones, 30 joints and over 100 soft supporting tissues in each of your feet. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect one or all of these joints. In fact, over 90% of people with RA will have symptoms that affect their feet.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation that affects the soft tissues and bones in the joints of your feet, causing pain, swelling, red and/or hot skin, and limited movement.

Tissues such as cartilage (padding between bones), ligaments (connecting bones), tendons (connecting muscles to bones), and joint capsule (tissue that surrounds the entire joint) are broken down by the body’s immune system. the organism.

You will likely have difficulty walking and standing for long periods as the disease progresses. RA affects both feet at the same time, making standing tasks even more difficult.

Complications of RA in the feet

As rheumatoid arthritis of the feet progresses, deformities often develop. These include:

  • flattened arch: When the ligaments that hold the bones of the foot in place are damaged, the bones begin to move. This can cause your arch to “collapse,” causing a flatfoot deformity.
  • Onion: Rheumatoid arthritis can cause your first toe to bow towards your second toe, causing a painful bump at the base of your big toe. This deformity is called a bunion.
  • Claw toe: This deformity affects your second to fifth toes when the small joints of your toes are bent at sharp angles, giving them the shape of a claw.

Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect circulation in your feet due to damage to your blood vessels. Nerve damage can also occur, resulting in tingling sensations or “foot sleepiness”.

RA push triggers

RA flare-ups can be triggered by:

  • Infection
  • Diseases
  • Overwork
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not taking medication correctly

How is rheumatoid arthritis of the feet treated?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a “global” disease. Some treatments target your overactive immune system, while others target your foot symptoms. Treatment includes medications, home remedies, and sometimes surgery.


Medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, are commonly used to suppress an overactive immune system in people with RA. These medications may eventually help reduce your foot symptoms, but it may take several months before they are effective.

Anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve foot symptoms during a flare-up or times when your symptoms worsen. These may include over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve (naproxen) and Advil (ibuprofen), or prescription steroid medications for more severe symptoms.

home remedies

Home remedies can significantly reduce the pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis in your feet.

  • Rest: Avoid activities that increase your pain. This can be difficult with foot pain. If you have to walk or stand frequently, schedule breaks into your day.
  • Unload your feet: Consider using a cane or walker to offload your feet if you experience significant pain while walking. When using a cane, hold it in the hand opposite the foot that hurts the most or use a cane in each hand. A rollator can be useful for long distances. Some walkers have a seat attached so you can sit down and rest.
  • Wear compression socks: Wear compression socks during the day to improve circulation and reduce swelling caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Warm them up: Apply hot compresses to your feet or soak them in warm water for 15-20 minutes at a time to increase blood flow and decrease pain. Heat can also help decrease stiffness.
  • Keep them moving: RA causes joint stiffness. Gentle exercises can help reduce stiffness in your ankles and feet. Sit with your legs elevated. Slowly circle your ankles in each direction 10 times. Draw the alphabet in the air, using your big toe to “write.” Avoid any movement that increases your pain.
  • Choose your shoes: Shoes can contribute significantly to RA symptoms in your feet. Choose shoes with a wide toe (front of the shoe) to avoid extra pressure on your joints. Avoid high heels. Choose shoes with built-in arch support if you have pain in the soles of your feet.
  • Try orthotics: Shoe inserts can provide extra support for your feet. Although you can buy over-the-counter inserts, you might get better results with custom-fitted orthotics. Consult a physical therapist or podiatrist for specific recommendations.


In some cases, surgery may be needed to treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the feet, especially if you have deformities.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the joints, including your feet. Symptoms include pain, swelling, warmth, red skin, difficulty walking, and deformities in the feet. Treatment includes medications, home remedies, and sometimes surgery.

A word from Verywell

Rheumatoid arthritis in your feet can make every step you take painful and frustrating. However, help is available. Consult a physical therapist for individualized exercise instructions and tips on how to make walking easier. If your medications aren’t working, talk to your healthcare provider about other options. Consider joining a support group for additional encouragement and guidance to improve your quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I reduce swelling in my feet from rheumatoid arthritis?

    Elevate your legs for 20 minutes at a time to help reduce swelling in your feet from rheumatoid arthritis. Wear compression socks during the day, especially if you spend a lot of time walking or standing.

  • Is walking good for rheumatoid arthritis of the feet?

    Walking can increase circulation to your feet if you have rheumatoid arthritis. However, it can also increase your pain. Try walking in a pool to reduce pressure on your feet.

  • What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the feet?

    Rheumatoid arthritis in the feet causes pain, swelling, redness, warmth, stiffness, weakness, and sometimes deformity.

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