Podiatry is a field of healthcare devoted to the study and treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle, and the knee. Often also referred to as ‘chiropodists’, podiatrists, are often part of the multi-disciplinary team managing people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis and your feet

Up to 90% of people with rheumatoid arthritis complain of foot problems. The pain and discomfort is usually in the forefoot (the ball of the foot, near the toes) but it can also affect other areas of the foot and ankle.

Problems vary from soreness, stiffness and swelling of one or more foot joints that lasts a few days, through to pain associated with a changing foot shape. These changes can alter the individual’s walking ability. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the skin and underlying tissues causing nodules to form. These can be uncomfortable and may rub against your shoes. Corns and calluses (hard skin) may also form.

How can the podiatrist help?

The goal of the podiatrists in rheumatology care is to reduce foot-related pain and improve your foot function and mobility, while protecting skin and other tissues from damage. To develop a treatment plan, a podiatrist will carry out a full physical assessment of an individual’s foot as well as taking a detailed history.

Below is a list of how a podiatrist can help you:

  • A podiatrist may prescribe a specialist shoe insert to support align or improve the function of the foot eg. insoles, splints. These devices will vary from softer devices that cushion tender areas under the foot to firmer devices that realign the foot, encouraging it to function better.
  • A podiatrist may provide advice on footwear choices, footwear adaptations and on accessing specialist footwear services.
  • A podiatrist may provide guidance on self-help techniques including correct use of hot and cold packs and joint protection.

Accessing a podiatrist

The Health Services Executive (HSE) regards people with arthritis as a priority when it comes to providing podiatry services. However, the level of service available can vary from area to area.

Your doctor or public health nurse will refer you to a podiatrist. The service is usually provided at health centres. In exceptional circumstances, it may be possible to get a chiropody service at home.