Arthritis & Pedorthics: Enhancing Mobility


As a day-in, day-out companion, pain is exhausting. That's why many medical professionals dealing with arthritis are turning to pedorthics – to help their patients function better and to help relieve their patients' pain.

Pedorthics (peh-DOR-thiks) is the management and treatment of conditions of the foot, ankle, and lower extremities requiring fitting, fabricating, and adjusting of pedorthic devices. Footwear can change a person's balance, improve his body's alignment, alter the way she stands or walks. For people with arthritis, pedorthics can be the difference between being able to watch and being able to do.

Effects of Arthritis

When arthritis strikes joints in the foot, walking can become difficult and painful – and a decrease in ambulatory capacity ultimately affects the rest of the body. The effect is compounded if arthritis also affects other joints. When painful arthritis attacks a joint such as the hip or spine, for example, people try to compensate by standing, walking or sitting differently. This changes the distribution of their body weight, which in turn affects their feet.

Normal usage of joints helps maintain a person's muscles, ligaments and other joint-supporting structures. As pain in a joint worsens, people avoid movement in an effort to protect the joint and lessen the pain – and this contributes to an ongoing cycle: pain, limited motion, loss of flexibility, further joint deterioration, and increasing pain.

Staying Active

Two of the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, which worsens gradually over time. It often affects the hips, knees, spine or finger joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis. Both types are destructive and disabling. An acute phase with extreme swelling, heat and pain can occur early; later, as the disease "burns out,” deformity is a larger problem.

Increasingly, doctors recommend activity or exercise for their arthritic patients, to maintain flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. And because arthritis has many ripple effects that spread to or from the feet, they increasingly prescribe pedorthic assistance to help their patients retain or enhance mobility.

Overcoming Problems

Pedorthics uses shoe and foot orthoses to accommodate change, improve function and/or relieve pain. A credentialed pedorthist is qualified by education and experience to make, modify and fit shoes and to fabricate and fit orthoses according to a doctor's prescription. Pedorthic results can sometimes be immediately apparent. Other times, positive results come with wearing the appropriate shoe or orthosis properly, over time.

Arthritis sufferers may be so used to pain in their feet that they simply don't realize treatment is possible. A credentialed pedorthist can suggest another shoe style, or a length, width or depth change that can make a significant difference. A credentialed pedorthist can also modify a shoe's interior or exterior to improve the fit. If the physician prescribes a foot orthosis, a credentialed pedorthist – who is familiar with shoe construction, lower extremity orthotic fabrication, and the materials fabrics and components appropriate in addressing a foot condition according to a prescription – can fabricate the orthosis and fit it properly to both foot and shoe.

For people with severe arthritis, shoe modifications and foot orthoses may be crucial in allowing more comfortable walking and in preventing infection. In less severe cases, proper shoes combined with prescription orthotics often allow more comfortable participation in regular activities, from simple ones like walking to more vigorous ones like sports.

Pedorthics can also play a role in body areas other than the feet. Appropriate foot orthoses, properly fitted, can cushion and redistribute weight to assist other joints above the foot. Modifications to shoe closures can help people whose hands have trouble with lacing or tying, or who have difficulty bending.

Wherever arthritis grips people, it affects their ability to move and to live a normal life. Pedorthics can't cure arthritis, but a credentialed pedorthist can help people who have arthritis stay participants instead of becoming observers. Pedorthics can enhance mobility – and for people with arthritis, the potential benefits are enormous.

Patients may be eligible through health insurance for partial or full reimbursement for footwear prescribed to accommodate or alleviate medical conditions.
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