Home » Inflammatory Conditions and Foot and Ankle Pain: Managing Symptoms with Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Inflammatory Conditions and Foot and Ankle Pain: Managing Symptoms with Diet and Lifestyle Changes

by Charlee

Inflammatory conditions are a common source of foot and ankle pain. The pain that is associated with inflammation can be sudden and severe or constant and dull. Balancing the inflammatory response is an important part of managing foot and ankle pain. Changing the diet can help initiate the balance by consuming food with anti-inflammatory properties and lessening the consumption of foods which are inflammatory triggers. This is important because the body’s inflammatory response is not only a result of injury or a nagging health problem, but is often a result of consuming foods with little nutritional value. Consuming poor food choices can also exacerbate an inflammatory condition by contributing to obesity and increasing the load and stress on the feet and ankles. Making poor food choices can create a cycle of inflammatory foot and ankle pain which can be very difficult to break. By taking a few simple steps to analyze and alter the diet, the patient may be able to decrease the consumption of inflammatory trigger foods and maximize the consumption of foods with positive anti-inflammatory effects.

Understanding Inflammatory Conditions and Foot Pain

The understanding about how inflammation occurs has led to the development of treatments that can control the inflammatory process. Given that inflammation is the immune system’s response to a foreign body or an injury, the most obvious way of controlling this is to remove the cause of the immune response. An anti-inflammatory medication works by inhibiting the enzyme or chemical that causes inflammation. This can be a reliable method for controlling inflammation and is widely used, but there can be side effects for using medications effectively, and this will be discussed further in the essay. More recently, a greater understanding of the immune system’s response to inflammation has led to the development of biological therapy treatments; these drugs act on the immune system itself and can be very effective for some people.

In arthritis and many other rheumatic conditions, the inflammatory activity that occurs is part of the disease process itself. It is this inflammation that does most of the damage to the tissues of the body and which produces the symptoms of pain, swelling, and loss of function. Sufferers of rheumatic conditions usually have an increase in pain and stiffness of their joints after inactivity or prolonged rest, and this is due to the inflammatory process. In the long term, there may be changes in the shape or alignment of a joint, caused by soft tissue damage or loss of cartilage; these changes can be seriously disabling. Inflammatory arthritis can affect organs and internal systems of the body in a systemic manner. An example of this is the fatigue and malaise that is common in rheumatoid arthritis, which is caused by the inflammation of various body tissues and an abnormal immune response.

Inflammatory conditions can be acute or chronic, with the acute forms having a rapid onset and a short duration. This is not always the case though, as an acute inflammatory condition can become chronic in nature and conversely, chronic conditions can exist without an acute phase. Inflammatory conditions are characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain, and disturbed function of an area of the body. This is due to the body’s immune system sending out inflammatory markers in an attempt to remove foreign bodies, such as viruses and bacteria, or to heal an injury to a particular area of the body. Inflammatory markers consist of a combination of cells and molecules that act at the site of inflammation. Generally, this process is a curative one. However, when an inflammation fails to eliminate the cause of an injury and the process continues, this can lead to a chronic inflammatory response, causing further damage to the tissues of the body and resulting in more pain and dysfunction.

Causes of Inflammatory Conditions in the Foot and Ankle

There are several causes for inflammation in the foot with consequent foot and ankle pain. The most common cause is an injury, specifically a sprained ankle or “multiple trauma”. 32% of people with an ankle sprain develop a painful, stiff, arthritic ankle. Some arthritis in the ankle can be present with no symptoms of pain at all; however, it is known to be a common cause for inflammatory ankle pain. Another common cause is a change in footwear. Certain shoes, such as high heels, that place added pressure on the ball of the foot have been linked to inflammatory conditions. Sometimes the body does not react to an inflammatory stimulus until a few years after it occurred. An example of this long-term inflammatory condition would be an arthritic condition called “tarsal tunnel syndrome”, which is a compression of the posterior tibial nerve, a nerve that travels from the leg into the foot. Apart from injury and arthritic conditions, there are systemic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout that can affect the foot and ankle. This can happen mostly at the small joints of the foot and ankle and the surrounding tissues. The result is intense pain and inflammation, which in turn affects mobility and quality of life. Finally, several types of tendonitis can cause inflammation around the foot and ankle. Usually, this is a result of overuse of certain tendons, often from specific exercise or from simply walking too much. An often example of overuse tendonitis would be posterior tibialis tendonitis, which can occur from walking specifically on uphill or uneven surfaces.

Common Symptoms of Foot and Ankle Pain

Inflammatory conditions in the foot often present with the very common symptom of morning pain and stiffness in the soles and dorsum of the feet. The pain will often improve and then worsen again at the end of the day with increased weightbearing and use of the affected feet. Swelling in the feet and ankles may also develop over time. This swelling can be localized to a specific part of the foot (such as in rheumatoid arthritis) or can be more widespread as in the case of gout. Redness and warmth in the soles of the feet and around the ankle joints is usually indicative of a more severe inflammatory reaction. In some higher inflammatory states, systemic symptoms such as fever and chills will develop. In patients with existing inflammatory arthritis in other joints, an acute flare of foot arthritis can precipitate a generalized increase in joint pain and stiffness throughout the body.

Managing Foot and Ankle Pain through Diet Changes

Consuming foods from all the food groups is important. There is no single food that causes inflammation, and there is no single food that decreases inflammation. A healthy diet is a long-term solution, not a quick fix. It’s pretty easy to sum up a healthy diet for your foot: eat more fruits and vegetables and more lean protein. Decrease or eliminate your intake of refined sugars and refined grains. They are considered highly inflammatory. Sugar is hidden in a lot of foods. Stay away from “white” foods. White bread, white rice, and white potatoes. They offer no nutrition and can increase inflammation. Instead, choose foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. They are believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Try adding flaxseed oil to your salad as dressing. And snack on walnuts, which are also a good source of omega-3s. And try to drink a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk every day. It can offer extra vitamin D, which has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Eat to nourish your body and decrease inflammation. Diets high in processed foods, high-fat foods, and high-sugar foods increase the production of chemicals in the body that can cause inflammation. For some people, a change in diet can help to decrease inflammation and hot swollen painful feet. This can be felt in two to three weeks if done diligently. Be patient. It can take time for a diet change to have an effect. And it doesn’t work for everybody. But there’s no downside to eating a healthy diet. We all know that. We’ll drive home that point now.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Include in Your Diet

The foods you include in your diet can also help to reduce inflammation in your body. They do this by neutralizing the free radicals that cause damage to cells and tissue. And some foods will also affect the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that can cause inflammation and pain in the body. If you are able to lower the levels of these prostaglandins, then you can also reduce pain and inflammation. There are also certain foods which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and so can be useful to include in your diet if you suffer from inflammatory conditions. These will be discussed in more detail later. It was mentioned earlier that obesity can be a major factor for foot pain. For this reason, if you are significantly overweight, it would also be advantageous to modify your diet in an attempt to lose weight and so reduce the load being placed through your lower limbs.

Foods to Avoid or Limit for Reducing Inflammation

Some research on the subject of diet and inflammation has been done in areas of the world where the diet is known for reducing inflammation. The Mediterranean diet takes its origins from the habits of people who live in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Their diet consists mainly of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. They replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil, and use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor food. Red meat and processed foods are eaten only rarely, and most meals are prepared at home. One study has shown that adults with asthma who ate a Mediterranean diet enriched with fatty fish had improved symptoms of asthma. Another study showed that a higher intake of olive oil, which is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, lowered the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s not just Mediterranean data which supports the consumption of plant-based foods. In one study, fruits and veggies were shown to benefit people with osteoarthritis. In general, more fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.

There are many foods which can promote inflammation: alkaline foods and fats, for example. And there are foods with high glycemic index, which may be particularly bad for people who suffer from inflammation and/or diabetes. Eating the wrong types of food can clog your arteries with fatty deposits, leading to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. It could also mean that you carry excess weight, which will put added stress on your weight-bearing joints, especially your knees and hips.

Importance of Hydration and Its Impact on Foot Pain

“The water metabolism of the body affects, and is affected by, the balancing system or the homeostasis of the body, especially in relation to the cooling and heating of the body produced by food and oxygen. Primarily, as concerns the topic of arthritis pain, it is important to understand the heat retention of pain for the healing and prevention of the damage which gives rise to inflammation.” This suggests that water intake helps regulate body temperature, and inflammatory pain in joints is an effect of trying to rebalance body temperature. With this, the page continues to explain how arthritis limits water intake as most people drink beverages that dehydrate the body.

From this information, we can conclude that by drinking more water, we can reduce the likelihood of joint pain and decrease the increase of pain. This can be helpful for people experiencing foot and ankle pain due to water’s effect on the lower body. An excerpt explained:

A study explained, “Joint pain is common in aging adults and can lead to chronic pain and joint damage. Exercise has been shown to reduce pain in weight-bearing joints.” This can relate to many adults who experience foot and ankle pain. With hydration, many people would anticipate that the more water you drink, the less likely you can develop joint pain. In a documented research conducted by the Osteoarthritis Initiative over one year, it was explained that “A significant positive association was found between change in WOMAC pain and change in water intake.” A decrease in water intake led to an increase in pain, and an increase in water intake decreased pain.

Lifestyle Changes to Alleviate Foot and Ankle Pain

Proper Footwear Selection and Support An often overlooked factor in foot and ankle pain is the use of proper footwear. The type of shoe and support can greatly influence symptoms felt at the end of the day. Unfortunately, an “ideal” shoe has not yet been defined due to the variability in foot shape and mechanics, but there are general rules to follow when selecting a proper shoe. Individuals with pain in the ball of the foot or in the toes may benefit from a shoe with a rocker bottom which off-loads pressure from that metatarsal region. Rigid flat feet with excessive or painful motion may benefit from a motion control shoe to limit excessive movement of the rear foot and mid foot. Individuals with painful big toe joint or arthritis about the rear or mid foot may benefit from stiffness around the sole of the shoe and front of the shoe to limit joint motion in these areas. A better approach to shoe buying is to go later in the day considering swelling that may occur. Also having someone assist or using the shoe fitter at the store will help to find a suitable shoe. Trying different brands and styles can take trial and error, but ultimately everyone has a pair of shoes that feels the best.

Exercise and Stretching Techniques for Pain Relief Exercise is an important component to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight. For some individuals with foot and ankle pain, weight bearing activities such as walking and hiking can be painful and may discourage further participation in activity. Choosing a low-impact activity is a good alternative to no exercise at all. Activities such as swimming and bicycling still provide cardiovascular benefits and can be less painful for individuals with foot and ankle pain. A regular routine will also aid in weight management which is an important component in foot and ankle pain, considering these are the weight-bearing joints of the body. Weight reduction will relieve pressure of the joint and decrease pain symptoms.

There are many types of lifestyle changes that people with foot and ankle pain can implement to combat their symptoms. Making modifications to current behaviors can take time, but in the end may be well worth the effort.

Exercise and Stretching Techniques for Pain Relief

Stretching is another important part of an exercise plan. It maintains and improves the flexibility of your joints. When you have pain in the ankle or foot, it is natural to limp to protect that body part. This, however, can cause muscle tightening and a loss in the joint’s range of motion in the affected limb. When stretching, it is important to warm up first. Do a 10-minute warm-up of light exercise such as walking, or do stretching after a hot shower. Hold a stretch for 10-20 seconds, do not bounce, and breathe while holding the stretch. It should not be painful. You can do gentle, easy stretching daily. Stretch both sides, even if only one side is affected by pain. Do more stretching on both sides that are involved in weight-bearing arthritis. Remember to use proper body positioning when you do stretch; it is better for your posture and safer for your joints.

Exercise and stretching techniques can be included in the lifestyle changes that you make to alleviate foot and ankle pain. Exercise improves your overall health, and it can also have direct benefits in reducing pain and inflammation. Weight control is an important aspect for people suffering from inflammatory types of arthritis. Losing weight can significantly lessen the pain and symptoms of arthritis because the extra weight puts more pressure on the joints, especially the knees, feet, and ankles. Regular exercise is an important key in weight reduction and maintenance. It also helps to strengthen muscles, which can improve support to the joint and maintain healthier bones. If you suffer from arthritis due to low back pain, exercise can help reduce pain and improve movement. You should first discuss your exercise options with your doctor to make sure the exercises are safe for your specific condition.

Proper Footwear Selection and Support

The feet are the foundation of the body, and proper fitting footwear will provide the necessary support for the body. Proper footwear and support are important in preventing and treating foot and ankle pain. The options for footwear may vary depending on the type and severity of the foot and ankle condition. Additionally, it may be necessary to work with a podiatrist to determine what options in footwear would be the most appropriate. Structural or anatomic abnormalities can alter the effectiveness of conservative care in treating foot and ankle pain. Most foot pain is a result of structural deformity or biomechanical abnormalities that can be corrected or improved with supportive footwear or orthotics. In these cases, it may be necessary to consult with a podiatrist, who may recommend a specific type of shoe or orthotic device to improve the primary condition, as well as secondary symptoms of foot pain.

Rest and Recovery for Reducing Inflammation

Reducing weightbearing pressure on the foot and ankle is a key component of rest and recovery. It is simple advice, but the amount of pressure through the affected joints and soft tissue structures is directly related to the speed and degree of damage occurring. It is quite common for those with general “wear and tear” type arthritis in the foot and ankle to have reasonably good periods of no pain and low swelling, but a few days of excessive weightbearing activity can quickly and significantly exacerbate the symptoms. This provides the opportunity for sufferers to appreciate the cause and effect relationship of their condition and the impact of unaccustomed stress on their foot and ankle.

In contrast to the previously discussed “lifestyle” changes, rest and recovery is a technique aimed to alleviate inflammation and pain by directly addressing the overuse and subsequent minor tissue damage often responsible for inflammatory conditions. In particular, conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and inflammatory tenosynovitis involving the tendons in the foot and ankle are all negatively affected by further mechanical stress. The techniques often involve simply cessation of exacerbating activities, use of walking aids, or short-term immobilization with the use of a brace or splint.

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