Custom Orthotics Soothe Rheumatoid Arthritis Feet

by Vanessa Collins Patient Expert

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often means living with foot pain. Topical anti-inflammatories (liquids and creams) can ease that pain to some extent. Warm water soaks can also help temporarily. When topical types of pain relief stop working, you might want to consider custom orthotics.

I have used orthotics for almost five years. The first pair I received were made by the physical therapist I was seeing almost five years ago. They were formed to my feet when the orthtotic material was warm and pliable. The end product of this process was a semi-rigid orthotic.

I wore these orthotics for two years. After a while, they became uncomfortable. I could have gone back to physical therapy and had another set made, but I chose to wear a good tennis shoe, instead.­­­­­ Asics running shoes were the best fit for me, and I was able to wear those comfortably for a couple of years.

My RA has progressed, and my tendons are involved. Consequently, none of my toes touch the floor anymore. They just sort of hang out in mid-air, and look rather strange. My arches have also fallen, and I now understand what it means to be "flat footed."

Going custom

All of these changes in my feet have caused much pain and concern about mobility. My rheumatologist suggested custom orthotics, and I agreed to try them. I was ready to try almost anything at this point.

I contacted the head of the physical therapy department at our local hospital, and he agreed to help me with the custom orthotics. I watched silently as Tom, my therapist, wrapped my feet in layer after layer of the same material used to make casts for broken bones. Tom would drag the strip of casting material through water, and then carefully wrap my painful feet.

The "casts" that Tom made clearly demonstrated how deformed my feet had become. My right foot is worse than my left foot, but neither look "normal." The casts were sent off to be used in making my shoe inserts. The orthotics I received a few weeks later are made of soft material. I had a choice of leather or a synthetic material - I chose the synthetic inserts. There are little "heels" and metatarsal bars in both inserts. These truly were made just for my feet!

My rheumatologist suggested I wear my new orthotics in my Asics running shoes. Dr. M recommends Asics because they are light weight and have a lot of support. I went online and found a pair that was orthotic friendly. When my Asics arrived, I removed the manufacturer's insert, and placed my orthoics in my new shoes. I put them on and went for a walk - I was surprised at how comfortable my feet were! A week later I noticed that my hips and knees did not hurt as much as they did before I had my new shoes and orthotics. Success.

Be careful they don't become a chew toy!

I have a Toy Fox Pinscher puppy who loves to go for walks. Thankfully, she is only a foot tall, so a quarter mile walk makes her happy. I walk my little Sadie Mae four to six times a day. Some days we also play a game of "doggie soccer."

I did get carried away with my new-found walking ability one day. I decided to walk my little dog at Longbranch Lake - there are beautiful walking trails there and Sadie Mae had a really good time. I enjoyed our walk almost as much as she did; however, I couldn't walk at all for the next two days. I must stick to my quarter mile walks, and not try to walk a mile at one time. Lesson learned!

One more word of caution as far as the orthotics go. If you share your home with a puppy or dog, you will want to make sure your orthotics are stored safely away from your canine friend. Dogs absolutely love to chew on orthotics.

Sadie Loves Orthotics

If you find walking difficult because of foot pain, please consider talking to your rheumatologist about custom orthotic inserts for your shoes. They can decrease your pain. They can increase your mobility. They can make walking fun again!

Vanessa Collins
Meet Our Writer
Vanessa Collins

Vanessa wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).