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Can Podiatry Help You With Arthritis Pain?

Statistics from 2018 showed that over 670,000 New Zealanders aged over 15 years were living with at least one type of arthritis – a figure that is likely much higher today in 2022. Given that arthritis is a painful, limiting and progressively disabling condition, a common question from those affected is what can be done beyond medication to help reduce pain and improve comfort.

There are over 140 known types of arthritis, with the three most common types affecting kiwi men and women being:

  • Osteoarthritis: this is the wear and tear arthritis that develops slowly over time as the cartilage that covers your bone ends wears down. The cause is largely from natural use over many years, though injuries, alignment issues within the joint and other diseases may result in it developing at a faster rate.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: this is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the joints and causes damage, inflammation and pain. If the effects of rheumatoid arthritis remain uncontrolled, it can cause permanent changes in the appearance of the joints, especially at the feet and hands.
  • Gout: this is an inflammatory arthritis that results from a high concentration of uric acid in the blood. Gout feels like sharp, painful crystals in the joints. Often, this is in the big toe and occurs in flares.

Despite having very different disease processes, one thing that all of these common types of arthritis have in common is that they very often (and in the case of gout, primarily) affect the feet.

Having arthritic pain in the joints of the feet can significantly affect a person’s quality of life and their ability to perform everyday activities – from taking their dog for a walk to being able to get out in the garden, and even just enjoy quality time with loved ones. Arthritic pain, or the fear of it worsening, also makes many people hesitate when it comes to engaging in exercise or even gentle physical activity, a factor that can have damaging consequences for a person’s overall health and well-being.

Can Podiatrists Do Anything For Foot Arthritis?

There’s a common misconception that there isn’t that much more that can be done to help with arthritic foot pain aside from taking pain-relieving medications to ease the discomfort or help prevent flares. The reality is that while it’s true that nothing can reverse the joint damage that has already been caused by arthritis, there is a lot that can be done to alleviate your pain and support your walking that does not involve medications – and these are offered by podiatrists. This includes:

  • Custom Foot Orthotics

Many people living with arthritis have stiff, restricted, swollen, prominent and otherwise irregular joints that make it uncomfortable, painful or difficult to walk. Custom foot orthotics (insoles) are prescription devices that alter the way your foot is positioned and the way it functions inside of your shoe. Podiatrists are able to prescribe each unique pair for their patients with arthritis after completing a comprehensive assessment so they know not only exactly which joints are stiff and most affected during walking, but how the entire foot and gait is being affected as a result.

Aside from foot arthritis, research has demonstrated that custom foot orthotics can also help reduce the pain from arthritis of the inner knee. Specifically, additions on the outside of the orthotic (lateral wedging) can help reduce the symptoms in the inner knee compartment, and research showed that this kind of orthotic use can produce the same results as orthotics paired with a knee brace, removing the need to wear this brace for some people.

  • Footwear Review & Recommendations

Your shoes can have a powerful influence on the pressure and forces that your feet are exposed to, while affecting the overall support and stability of your foot and ankle as you stay mobile. Your podiatrist will assess the level of support and the overall integrity of your current footwear, and make any recommendations for new shoes or modifications to your existing shoes.

Your podiatrist may also suggest new lacing techniques, as certain arthritic changes to the feet can make standard shoe lacing uncomfortable and painful. In cases like midfoot arthritis, you may be recommended to switch to a box lace technique to better accommodate and support your midfoot.

  • Foot Mobilisation Therapy

Foot mobilisation is a hands-on therapy that uses gentle, targeted movements of your foot and ankle to help increase joint flexibility and movement without any medication, needles or surgery. By helping to ‘free’ the joints and improve their alignment and function, pain is reduced and healthy movement is encouraged. Foot mobilisation is a service that many podiatrists across NZ can help with. It should be noted that a person’s suitability for foot mobilisation is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and it may not be suitable for those with severely stiff or disfigured joints, as well as those currently experiencing painful flares.

  • Gentle Prescription Exercises

As part of your treatment plan, your podiatrist may also include a series of gentle prescription exercises that are designed to help strengthen weak muscles that may be affecting your mobility, as well as stretch tight muscles. Given the painful and limiting nature of arthritis, any exercises we do add to your treatment plan will be simple, gentle and very achievable for you.

Removing The Cost Barrier From Podiatry Appointments

While knowing that you can get relief from painful foot arthritis is great, booking in with your podiatrist and being able to get all the treatments you need can present a significant cost barrier, especially if you haven’t budgeted for the expense.

This is where New Zealand’s leading health-focused Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) platform, HealthNow, has stepped in to bridge this gap at no cost to health consumers. Used as an app on your smartphone, your total appointment cost, including the cost of any products, is split over up to twelve weeks, leaving your upfront cost at only a fraction of what it would otherwise be.

Unlike other BNPL services that charge fees or interest, which further disadvantage those that are in pain and are trying to be proactive about their health, HealthNow remains completely free to users, and podiatry clinics still get paid in full by HealthNow on the day of the visit. This win-win platform is transforming healthcare access for New Zealanders, enabling them to get the best outcomes for their health by not being forced to delay their care.

You can start using HealthNow today by downloading the app. You can also check out HealthNow’s full benefits and features, including a health wallet to store funds set aside for health services that can be contributed to by others including your employer.

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