Cracking Big Toe?

A Possible Sign of Arthritis

Sadly, that crack, crack, cracking you’re hearing from your feet these days as you walk may be more than just another sign of getting old. In actuality, you may have arthritis and not know it.

What is arthritis, exactly?

The term arthritis is a bit of a misnomer and does not describe a single condition. Rather, it refers to the overall pain or disease that is caused by inflammation or stiffness in the joints. In fact, there are over 100 different types of arthritis and other related disorders that the term can actually cover.

When arthritis occurs in the joints (including the toes), it wears away cartilage between the joints. This causes inflammation in the associated tissues and/or wears away the synovial fluid (lubrication for the joints) over time. This makes the joints stiff and painful, which can become a serious problem for the big toe, as it is primarily responsible for balance when you walk.

Risk factors for developing arthritis in the toes may include:

  • Family history of arthritis
  • Increased age
  • Obesity
  • Wearing tight, high-heeled shoes for extended periods of time

What are some common symptoms of arthritis?

When it comes to arthritis in the toe(s), common symptoms may include:

  • Changes in the appearance of the toe(s), such as joint enlarging (think of what a bunion may look like) or toe curving (a.k.a. claw foot)
  • Pain in the big toe or several toes
  • Stiffness that makes moving the toe(s) difficult
  • Swelling, which may turn the toe(s) red, feel warm to the touch and make putting shoes on difficult
  • Toe joint(s) locking up

How can arthritic toe pain be treated?

There are a number of things you can try to ease the pain and other symptoms of arthritis, such as:

  • Applying topical treatments, like Icy Hot® (or any treatment that contains capsaicin)
  • Getting a foot massage
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) over the counter (e.g., Aleve®, Advil®, Motrin®, etc.)
  • Wearing wide, comfortable, supportive shoes with arch support, so the joints of the toes and feet are stabilized (e.g., toning athletic shoes)
  • Wiggling your toes to increase joint mobility

Could my symptoms be the result of something other than arthritis?

There are several conditions that can mimic the symptoms of arthritis (most notably rheumatoid arthritis). These include:

  • Certain infections, such as Lyme disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Chikungunya virus
  • Lupus, a choric autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own tissues
  • Morton’s neuroma, a condition in which the tissue around a nerve connected to the toes becomes thickened
  • Vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels

>No matter what the cause, if you suspect you have arthritis in one or more of your toes, a trip to a rheumatologist may be in order (because self-diagnosing is so early 2000s).

Come to the Joint Specialists

At Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine (NEOSM), our physicians have years of experience in effectively treating all orthopedic conditions and injuries, including those related to joint pain and arthritis. Our multidisciplinary approach to care ensures that patients receive the customized treatment they need to get moving again.

For more information on arthritis or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact NEOSM today.

Chilled to the Bone: Can Winter Weather Affect Arthritis Symptoms?

Arthritis is classified as a condition that causes stiffness and inflammation in the joints. It can be very painful, and make it difficult to be active. According to a poll by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans, with numbers rising each year.

The condition is classified in two categories, each affecting the joints differently. The following is a breakdown of both types of arthritis, and the ways that they affect the body.

1) Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis commonly begins with the abuse that joints’ cartilage takes over the course of time. In severe cases, the cartilage is completely worn away, causing painful bone-on-bone friction. This type of arthritis is brought on by age, but can arise earlier if there is a history of joint injury or infection.

2) Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the tough membrane that lines the joints. The lining (known as the synovial membrane) then becomes inflamed and swollen. It is a progressive condition, and can eventually destroy the bones and cartilage within the joint membrane.

Risk factors for both types of arthritis include obesity, age, sex (women are more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than men), previous injury and family history. There is also a possible risk factor that is not widely considered, and that’s colder weather.

How can arthritis be affected by cold weather?

For decades, there have been countless numbers of people who claim that they can predict weather changes like rain or snow based on pain in their joints. While many believe this is unfounded, studies have shown that perhaps there is some validity to the claims.

For decades, doctors have stood by the belief that weather is actually a factor in arthritic pain. According to some experts though, the overwhelming number of patients who claim that the phenomenon happens to them has caused for some questioning.

While there is not much evidence that explains the actual process of how arthritic joints are affected, there are certain elements related to colder weather that can help to explain this phenomenon.

Barometric pressure (also known as atmospheric pressure) is exerted by the weight of the air in Earth’s atmosphere. It can vary based on factors such as altitude, sea level and temperature/humidity changes. It has also been said to have effects on the human body.

During winter months, barometric pressure changes frequently. The theory is that this decrease/increase of pressure on the skin is what can cause swelling to occur more prevalently, leading to more arthritis pain. Another popular theory as to why the correlation between colder weather and arthritis exists is the “hibernation” lifestyle that many people adopt for the winter season.   

What can be done to prevent arthritic pain during winter?

During colder months, it’s well established that people tend to have changes in their exercise routines. However, low-impact exercise is known to be a great method of reducing stiffness and pain from arthritis. Exercise does not always have to be intense or monotonous. Just taking 20 minutes out of the day to do some form of activity can go a long way in avoiding arthritic pain. But unable to participate in outdoor activities, many feel that their choices are limited, and do not exercise as frequently as they should. Here is a list of activities to consider during the winter.

  • Household chores (vacuuming, rearranging furniture, etc.)
  • Hydrotherapy (swimming)
  • Joining a gym or fitness club
  • Playing with children
  • Running (which is beneficial to knee joints according to a recent study)
  • Stretching/ light exercise indoors
  • Using stairs instead of an elevator/escalator
  • Walking indoors (shopping mall or around the office)

There are measures that can further protect the joints during colder months. These are not related to exercise, but are more geared towards preparation when being out in the cold. Seeing a physician is first and foremost in the steps to finding relief. A doctor can confirm that pain being experienced is indeed arthritic, and can help to devise a treatment plan. Listed below are some precautions to consider that can help you to avoid joint pain during colder months.

Dress in layers and stay warm

By bundling up, joints can be protected from colder weather. As the cold progresses, dressing in layers is a good method of controlling body temperature and movement. It’s very important to make sure that the extremities (fingers and toes) are covered, as they are often sources for arthritic pain.

Keep hydrated

Dehydration can make the body more sensitive to pain, and can also make people feel lethargic and tired. By drinking a recommended average of 10 to 13 cups per day of water or fluids, a person will feel more active and less likely to experience arthritis-related pain.

Stay alert and cautious

During colder months, icy conditions are common, and can be a cause of injury. Those with arthritis need to be particularly cautious, as a joint injury can become a serious problem. Wearing supportive shoes with deep treads is an easy way to avoid a painful slip-and-fall.

Take supplements (fish oil, glucosamine-chondroitin, vitamin D)

Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 2.6 grams of fish oil pills should be taken twice a day to ease arthritic inflammation. A doctor should be consulted if you are taking omega-3, as it can increase bruising and bleeding.

Glucosamine-chondroitin is an herbal supplement that can serve as a low-risk pain therapy for arthritis. It is not proven that herbal supplements can provide arthritis pain relief, but testimonials have supported some validity to the potential benefits.

Vitamin D is absorbed through sunlight, and can affect sensitivity to arthritis pain. By supplementing Vitamin D during the winter, one can gain the benefits even where sunlight is not present quite as often.

Although the scientific proof is unsubstantiated, it seems to be an all-too-common occurrence that people with arthritis experience more pain in colder weather. If atmospheric pressure is indeed the cause, it is seemingly unavoidable. However, by taking the proper precautions and being prepared when going out into the cold, pain and stiffness can be alleviated or avoided.

 

At Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, our physicians have years of experience in effectively treating all orthopedic conditions and injuries, including those related to joint pain and arthritis. Our multidisciplinary approach to care ensures that patients receive the customized treatment they need to get moving again.

For more information on arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact NEOSM today.

 

Waking Up With RA: 6 Tips to Relieve Morning Stiffness

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, resulting in inflammation that can lead to pain and joint deformity.

If you live with RA, you know that one of the most common and inconvenient symptoms of the disease is morning stiffness, which can hinder everyday activity.

Below are some expert tips to help warm up those cold, stiff and painful joints, so can you face whatever comes your way:

1. Set Two Alarms: One for Medication, One to Start Your Day

Before bedtime, make sure to take out your arthritis medication and set two alarms: one to take your medication and one for when you have to start your day.

When Alarm #1 goes off, take your medication. When Alarm #2 goes off, start your day. The hour between allows your joints to warm up. (For example, if you have to leave at 10, wake up at 8 for your medication and then lie back down until 9 to get moving.)

2. Utilize Heating Essentials

Keep some heating essentials nearby to put on when you wake up, such as:

  • A heating pad
  • Mittens
  • Socks
  • Warming salves and creams (e.g., Aspercreme®, Icy Hot®)

3. Exercise

After your joints have warmed up and the medication has kicked in, perform some range-of-motion exercises to loosen tight muscles, ligaments and tendons.

While remaining under the covers, flex and release the joints in your hands, wrists elbows and shoulders on one side at a time. Then, turn your head slowly from side to side to loosen your neck. Finally, flex and release your ankles, toes, knees and hips. When you officially feel less stiff and pained, get out of bed.

In fact—though it may sound counter-intuitive given how painful joint stiffness can be—walking at least 15 minutes and doing random range-of-motion exercises throughout the day are beneficial ways to keep joints in shape by strengthening the supportive tissues.  

4. Take a Shower

A hot shower following exercise is a great way to loosen up. The heat from the shower gets the blood flowing to the surface of your skin, which helps to flush out your joints. If bathing, soak for 10 to 20 minutes while rubbing your joints gently with a washcloth. 

5. Ease Into Activity 

Don’t panic about what needs to be done. Pace yourself when it comes to your morning activities. Doing so will make the act of performing those activities more tolerable until your joints are officially up and running.

6. Check in With Your Rheumatologist Regularly

Your rheumatologist can help you effectively manage your condition and symptoms by monitoring your medication and lifestyle. Be sure to schedule regular visits for optimal care to keep morning stiffness to a minimum and keep the extra warm-up time in the morning for sleep.

Meet Our Specialist

At Northeast Orthopedics and Sports Medicine (NEOSM), our rheumatologist specializes in all aspects of rheumatic disorders, including comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and continued care. As a practice, we are committed to utilizing the latest advancements to ensure patients receive the highest quality of care possible for this and other musculoskeletal disorders.