Arthritis and osteoarthritis

Posted on 18 September 2014

As we age, parts of our bodies that once worked perfectly succumb to diseases related to wear and tear, especially our feet, ankles and hips. Brandon Maggen, a podiatrist based at Mediclinic Milnerton, helps us understand arthritis…

What are the five most common foot-related complaints in the elderly?
The 2004 US Feet First survey may be old and outdated, but it has relevance in urban SA. Sadly, their list of the top five foot complaints in the elderly remains as true today as it did 10 years ago. These are:
1. Arthritis
2. Generalised yet continuous foot and ankle pain
3. Bunions/corns/hammer toes/toenail infections
4. Diabetic complications
5. Problems with gait

What causes arthritis?
The most generalised form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is the most common joint disease in the world and one of the oldest. Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and swelling, and can cause disability in older adults. It’s caused by inflammation, breakdown, and the eventual loss of cartilage in the joints – the cartilage wears down over time.

How can osteoarthritis limit movement?
It can eventually cause disability, pain, deformity and, most especially, limit movement, which can significantly decrease a patient’s quality of life.

What is the treatment for arthritis and osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, so depending on its stage and severity, treatment may differ accordingly. As a priority, the treatment of pain and maintenance of mobility are at the cornerstones of care. This can be done in three ways: the prescription of medicine (usually anti-inflammatories), physiotherapy and education.

A podiatrist will assess and categorise the patient’s foot deformity and any limitation of range of motion. We will also suggest orthotics (or supports that help to disperse load, to cushion and to protect), and the correct footwear. The podiatrist will also help the patient deal with any resultant skin deformities relative to a changed foot, such as corns, callouses, hammer toes, etc. Surgery is occasionally required and is only performed if the mobility of a joint can be restored, for example, a joint can be fused to markedly reduce friction (and hence, pain) and also, if indicated, to replace joints where possible.

What precautions can you take when you’re young to prevent developing osteoarthritis?
Be sensible with shoe choice. Wear the correct shoe for the right reason. Fashion and style are but fickle fleetings in the wind, and are the cause of much arthritis in the feet.

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