Arthritis in the feet

Texas Foot Doctors Explain Foot Wound Risks and Management for RA Patients 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most common types of arthritis. It is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks their joints, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness, and damage. It can impact the entire body, including the feet and ankles. Foot wounds are a serious concern for RA patients, which is why it’s so important for individuals with this condition to see a podiatrist regularly. 

At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we have experience providing preventive care and foot wound treatment to individuals with RA in Tarrant County, Texas. Below, our Grapevine and Keller foot doctors provide a detailed overview of the risks of foot wounds for RA patients, including why they are so dangerous, how to recognize the signs, what to do, and how a podiatrist can help. 

The Dangers of Foot Wounds for People With RA

RA can cause chronic joint inflammation in the feet, toes, and ankles, as well as throughout the body. This inflammation can damage tissue and increase wound susceptibility. RA can also cause bunions, hammer toes, and subluxation, which create abnormal pressure points and increase a person’s risk of experiencing skin breakdown and developing ulcers.

Not only are RA patients particularly susceptible to foot wounds, but they also have an elevated risk of developing serious consequences from foot wounds. Regular foot examinations, proper foot care, and early intervention for any wounds or injuries are essential to manage foot health for individuals with RA.

Foot wounds can be dangerous for anyone, and they are particularly risky for individuals with RA. Foot wounds can be extremely dangerous for RA patients for several reasons, including:

  • Decreased sensation. People with RA may experience neuropathy, which is a type of nerve damage that can reduce sensation in the feet. As a result, they may not feel pain or discomfort from wounds or injuries, leading to delayed detection and treatment.
  • Impaired healing. RA can affect the body's immune system, causing inflammation and slowing down the healing process. This impaired healing response can increase the risk of infections and complications from foot wounds.
  • Poor circulation. Some individuals with RA may also have circulation problems, which can further impair the healing process and increase the risk of complications from foot wounds. 
  • Neuropathy. RA-related nerve damage can result in reduced sensation in the feet, which can prevent or delay patients from becoming aware of injuries or pressure sores.
  • Circulatory issues. RA can lead to vascular problems that reduce blood flow to the feet, resulting in impaired wound healing.
  • Medication side effects. Medication used to manage RA, such as corticosteroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), can weaken the immune system or affect blood clotting, increasing susceptibility to infections and impairing wound healing.

Foot wounds in people with RA require prompt and thorough care to prevent serious complications such as infections, ulcers, or potentially even the need for amputation. 

Factors That Elevate Foot Wound Risk for RA Patients

Not only are foot wounds particularly dangerous for people with RA, but individuals with this autoimmune condition also have an elevated risk of developing this type of problem. For example, as pointed out above, medications used to treat RA can increase susceptibility to foot wounds. Other factors contributing to an increased risk of foot wounds for RA patients include: 

  • Limited mobility. RA can lead to reduced mobility. When a person becomes less mobile, this can cause increased pressure on certain areas of one or both of their feet and lead to wounds. 
  • Poorly-fitting footwear. Wearing ill-fitting shoes can exacerbate pressure points and lead to skin breakdown. This is true for everyone, though RA patients are particularly susceptible because they already have an elevated risk of skin breakdown.  
  • Comorbid conditions. RA isn’t the only condition that elevates a person’s risk of developing serious foot wounds that may be hard to heal. If an RA patient also has another condition, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease, their wound healing ability can be further impaired. 

Signs of a Foot Wound

RA patients can experience a number of different types of foot wounds, including ulcers, calluses, blisters, and infections. The signs of a foot wound can vary depending on type, cause, and severity, but common signs to watch for include:

  • Pain. Pain is often the first sign of a foot wound. It may range from mild discomfort to severe pain, depending on the type and extent of the injury. It may be painful to walk or put pressure on the affected foot.
  • Redness. The skin around the wound may appear red or inflamed, indicating inflammation and increased blood flow to the area.
  • Swelling. Swelling may occur around the wound site as the body's immune response kicks in to repair the damaged tissue.
  • Warmth. The skin around a foot or ankle wound may feel warm to the touch due to increased blood flow and inflammation.
  • Drainage. Some foot wounds may drain fluid, pus, or blood from the wound site, which can indicate infection or tissue damage.
  • Odor. A foul-smelling discharge from the wound site may indicate the presence of infection.
  • Skin texture change. With some foot or ankle wounds, the skin around the injury may feel different from the surrounding skin, such as being rougher or smoother.
  • Delayed healing. If a wound fails to heal within the expected timeframe or shows signs of worsening despite appropriate care, it may indicate underlying issues such as infection or impaired healing.

It's always essential to monitor foot wounds closely and seek medical attention if you notice any of these signs, especially for those with RA or any underlying health condition that may increase the risk of complications. Seeking prompt treatment from a podiatrist can help prevent further complications and promote faster healing.

How RA Patients Can Prevent and Manage Foot Wounds

There are a number of steps RA patients can take to prevent foot wounds, as well as to properly manage any wounds that develop despite their preventive efforts.  

  • Regular foot examinations. Schedule regular checkups with an experienced podiatrist to help identify early signs of wounds or pressure points.
  • Proper footwear. To reduce the risk of ulcers, consistently wear supportive, well-fitting shoes and orthotics that distribute pressure evenly.
  • Skin care. Keep your feet clean, dry, and properly moisturized to prevent skin cracking and infection.
  • Pressure relief. Use orthotics or an offloading device (such as crutches or a boot) to relieve pressure on vulnerable areas.
  • Proper wound care. If you develop an infection, see an experienced foot doctor right away. It’s important to promptly treat any foot wounds with appropriate dressings and antibiotics for infections, as well as any other recommended medical interventions. 

What to Do if You Have a Foot Wound

Foot wounds can be very serious, especially for RA patients. If you develop one, acting promptly to prevent complications is essential. While the exact actions you should take will vary based on the type and severity of the wound, it is very important for RA patients with a foot wound to consult and follow up with an experienced foot doctor. 

If you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and have RA or another type of arthritis, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists. Our Grapevine and Keller foot doctors can help arthritis patients in Tarrant County by providing expert guidance on wound care and may recommend additional treatments or health care interventions as needed, based on the severity of the wound and health factors specific to the individual. 

Beyond seeking proper podiatric care, general guidelines for what to do for a foot wound include: 

  • Clean the wound. Gently clean the wound with mild soap and warm water. Avoid using harsh chemicals or antiseptics unless advised by a health care professional, as these can delay healing or cause irritation.
  • Apply an antiseptic. If the wound is minor and clean, applying a topical antiseptic or antibiotic ointment can help prevent infection. However, avoid using these if the wound is deep or if there is any sign of infection.
  • Cover the wound. Protect the wound with a sterile bandage or dressing to keep it clean and prevent further injury. Change the dressing regularly, especially if it becomes wet or soiled.
  • Reduce pressure. If the wound is on a weight-bearing part of the foot, try to minimize pressure on the area by wearing supportive shoes or using cushioning pads or insoles.
  • Watch for signs of infection. Watch the wound closely for signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, warmth, or drainage of pus. If any of these symptoms develop, seek medical attention promptly.

By taking these steps and seeking appropriate medical care, individuals with RA can effectively manage foot wounds and reduce the risk of complications.

Proper Podiatric Care Is Key to Managing Foot Wounds

Foot wounds in RA patients require careful management due to the combination of inflammation, joint deformities, neuropathy, and compromised healing. Preventive measures and early intervention are crucial to help minimize the risk and severity of such wounds. 

Regular monitoring of foot health and appropriate care for foot wounds can significantly improve outcomes for RA patients. Seeing a podiatrist, such as the expert foot doctors at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, is a great way for RA patients to establish a relationship with a foot doctor for regular checkups and preventive care, as well as medical intervention and treatment when needed.