A regular footcare routine can help to keep problems to a minimum but seek advice from your doctor or a podiatrist first, especially if:
- you have vasculitis
- you have scleroderma
- you're taking steroids or biologic drugs
- your skin is slow to heal.
The routine should include regular nail cutting, filing the skin and applying appropriate foot care cream. Choosing the right footwear is important.
Good footwear, which is supportive and comfortable, is essential to improve pain and discomfort in the feet.
Exercise is important to keep your joints moving and helps you keep to a healthy weight. Losing weight if you're overweight can be difficult, but will help ease the pressure on painful feel. Swimming and other non-weight-bearing exercises are best if painful feet make it difficult to exercise. A Health and Care Professions (HCPC)-registered physiotherapist or podiatrist may be able to suggest exercises to help with particular foot problems.
If your ankles feel stiff in the morning, allowing some time for your joints to loosen up will usually help. You might find that having a bath or shower helps because the warm water can ease stiffness. During the day, alternate between sitting and standing activities to take the pressure off your feet. Resting for 10 minutes at a time throughout the day can be helpful, especially if you keep your feet raised. This is particularly useful if you have plantar fasciitis or swollen ankles.
Try our simple exercises for foot pain.
You may need to take special care of your feet if you have arthritis, either because of the condition itself or because of the medications you take. A good, regular footcare routine will usually keep problems to a minimum:
- Wash your feet daily and dry them thoroughly, especially between your toes.
- Surgical spirit, which you can buy from chemists, helps if the skin between your toes becomes white and soggy-looking. Don't apply to sore or cracked skin.
- Use a dedicated foot cream with 100% urea concentration for dry skin.
- Cut your toenails every six to eight weeks. Cut straight across and use an emery board to file down the sharp edges.
- Treat minor cuts, blisters or grazes by covering them with a dressing and keeping them dry. If they don't heal in two to three days, seek professional advice.
- If you suffer from ulcers on your feet, make sure you apply an appropriate dressing to broken skin and take advice from your GP, nurse or rheumatology team. You may need antibiotics if the ulcers become infected. If you're on biologics seek medical advice within 24 hours, because of risk of infection.
- If you have athlete's foot (a fungal skin infection, causing itching and sometimes a rash), thorough washing and drying between your toes will help. A cream or powder from the chemist will speed up the healing process.
- Toenails can be affected by fungal infections. Topical application of anti-fungal paints and/or oral anti-fungal therapy can be obtained on prescription from a GP.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you should have your feet checked by a professional just after your diagnosis and then once a year. This can be done by your GP, rheumatologist or nurse, and if you have problems you should be referred to an HCPC-registered podiatrist.
Some people with rheumatoid arthritis have a burning sensation in their feet at night. Using a hot-water bottle filled with cold water can help but you should speak to your doctor about it, especially if this is a new symptom.
Calluses can usually be scraped away using a pumice stone or abrasive board. You should never use an open blade such as a scalpel or razor blade. Special skin files and scrapers may be suitable as long as you and your skin are in good health, although these will not help much with corns where the nucleus goes deeper into the skin. Check with your doctor or an HCPC-registered podiatrist first, especially if:
Pads and cushions available from the chemist may help with painful pressure points, but over-the-counter creams and medicated corn plasters aren't generally recommended. If you're on steroids or biologics, or if you have vasculitis or your skin heals slowly you should avoid these treatments altogether.
If you can't care for your feet yourself, your GP or hospital consultant can refer you for professional care within the NHS. Podiatry services accept patients on a self-referral basis. An HCPC-registered podiatrist will help with troublesome nails, corns and calluses, and they'll provide advice on finding special shoes or orthoses. Some centres have access to an orthotist who will be able to assess and provide ready-made or custom-made shoes as required.