How to Know if Foot Pain is Arthritis: Key Signs and Expert Insights

Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Kyle

How to Know if Foot Pain is Arthritis

Foot pain is a common issue that can stem from various factors. We will look and see how to know if foot pain is arthritis.

One possibility is arthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation and deterioration of joint cartilage. Early detection of arthritis in the feet is crucial for proper management and minimizing long-term discomfort.

Some early signs of arthritis in feet include pain, swelling, and stiffness. Pain can initially be intermittent and may worsen after physical activity. Stiffness in the joints often occurs after periods of rest, making mornings particularly challenging.

As arthritis progresses, additional symptoms may arise, such as difficulty walking, increased pain and swelling in the morning, and warmth around affected joints. Identifying these signs and consulting a healthcare professional can help determine the most effective course of treatment.

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Identifying Foot Arthritis Symptoms

Common Symptoms

Pain is an early sign of arthritis in feet, often worsened by movement or activity. It may be intermittent or occur after physical activity. Swelling and stiffness are also common symptoms.

Tenderness and redness around the affected joints may occur. A decreased range of motion and increased stiffness may also be present, especially in the morning.

Different Types of Arthritis

Foot arthritis may manifest differently depending on the arthritis affecting the joints. For example, psoriatic arthritis often causes inflammation where tendons and ligaments meet foot bones.

Joint pain and grating or cracking sensations may be more common in certain types of arthritis. Weakness in the tendons can also be an indication of ankle joint arthritis.

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Causes of Foot Arthritis


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, often caused by aging, wear, and tear on joints. As the cartilage wears down, bones rub against each other, causing foot pain and inflammation.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune arthritis that causes the immune system to attack the joints. This leads to inflammation and damage to the cartilage and bones in the feet.


Gout is arthritis caused by excess uric acid build-up in the blood. The acid forms sharp crystals that accumulate in the joints, especially the big toe, causing intense pain and inflammation.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory arthritis that affects people with psoriasis—a skin condition. PsA can cause dactylitis (swelling of entire toes or fingers) and inflammation in foot ligaments, like the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia.

Age: As people age, their risk of developing arthritis increases. Older adults are more likely to experience joint degeneration and cartilage breakdown in their feet.

Family history: Genetics can play a role in developing arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. Having a family member with arthritis increases the risk of developing the condition.

Joints: Foot arthritis can affect various joints in the feet, with 28 bones and over 30 joints in each foot. The ankle joint, heel bone, and big toe joint are commonly affected by arthritis.

Inflammation: Inflammation in the joints due to arthritis can cause pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion in the feet.

Bones and muscles: Arthritis can weaken the bones and muscles in the feet, making them more susceptible to injury and leading to further pain and discomfort.

Post-traumatic arthritis: Injury or trauma to a joint, like a fracture or dislocation, can increase the risk of developing arthritis in the affected joint, including those in the feet.

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Diagnosing Foot Arthritis

Physical Examination

A doctor will perform a physical examination to assess your foot’s range of motion, stability, and any swelling or deformities. They’ll also consider your medical history and any risk factors.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can help determine the type of arthritis affecting your feet. For instance, rheumatoid factor (RF) testing can indicate rheumatoid arthritis, while uric acid tests are useful for diagnosing gout.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans can provide detailed images of your foot’s joints, revealing signs of joint damage or inflammation. These images help your doctor confirm the diagnosis and plan the best course of treatment.

Your doctor may also consider other treatment options like medications, physical therapy, or even surgery, depending on the severity and type of arthritis.

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Treatment and Management

Medications and Injections

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to alleviate foot pain caused by arthritis. They help reduce swelling and relieve pain in the affected joints. Steroid injections can provide more targeted and long-lasting relief, often administered directly into the affected joints.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Physical therapy can be highly beneficial for improving joint mobility and strength. It often involves exercises tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Regular, low-impact activities like swimming and walking can provide ongoing support for foot arthritis management.

Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce pressure on the affected joints, improving symptoms and mobility. A balanced diet can also positively impact arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation and supporting overall joint health.

Surgical Options

In severe cases where conservative methods fail to provide relief, joint replacement surgery may be considered. This entails replacing damaged joints with artificial ones to alleviate pain and restore function.

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Foot Arthritis Complications and Risk Factors

Foot arthritis can lead to chronic pain, affecting mobility and daily activities. Timely treatment and lifestyle adjustments may help reduce the progression and complications.

As you age, your risk of developing arthritis in the feet increases. The wear and tear on the joints over time can contribute to the deterioration of cartilage.

Obesity also plays a significant role in increasing the risk of foot arthritis. Extra weight increases pressure on the joints, leading to faster cartilage breakdown.

A family history of arthritis may predispose you to a higher risk of developing the condition. Genetics can play a considerable role in the likelihood of experiencing arthritis.

Infections, such as bacterial or viral, can cause inflammation in the joints and may trigger arthritis development. Maintaining good hygiene and addressing infections promptly is essential.

Trauma or injuries to the foot can also increase your risk of developing arthritis. Proper care and rehabilitation after injuries can help minimize the potential for arthritis.

Conditions like ankylosing spondylitis, a type of inflammatory arthritis, can also affect foot joints. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and reduce joint damage.

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Differentiating Foot Arthritis from Other Conditions

Foot arthritis can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions. Identifying the specific symptoms can help differentiate it from other foot issues.

Injuries, such as fractures or sprains, are more sudden in onset. Arthritis, on the other hand, generally develops slowly over time.

Surgeries can also cause foot pain, which tends to be localized and related to the procedure. Diabetic neuropathy, due to diabetes, leads to a burning sensation and numbness that may involve the bottom of the foot.

Heel pain might be attributed to plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes. Arthritis pain is more focused on the joints.

Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis cause pain and stiffness throughout the foot, especially in the morning. This differs from brief flares linked to joint damage or overuse.

Hammertoe is another condition that can be mistaken for arthritis. It causes a bend in the toe joint due to a muscle imbalance. Arthritis pain is more diffuse, affecting multiple joints.

Nerve issues in the spine can lead to foot pain as well. However, this tends to be accompanied by additional symptoms relating to the spine and nerves, whereas arthritis is localized to the joints.

Overall, it’s crucial to recognize the unique characteristics of foot arthritis in order to differentiate it from other painful conditions. Proper diagnosis will lead to targeted treatment and better management of foot pain.

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Preventing and Reducing Foot Arthritis Symptoms

A balanced diet plays a crucial role in managing foot arthritis. Include foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties and avoid foods that elevate uric acid levels.

Regular exercise helps maintain mobility and reduces joint stiffness. Choose low-impact activities like swimming or cycling to avoid putting excess stress on your feet.

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the pressure on your feet. Less pressure equals less pain and potential damage to the joints.

Wearing supportive footwear can greatly improve your quality of life. Opt for shoes with cushioning and arch support to alleviate stress on your feet.

Lastly, practice good foot hygiene and care to prevent infections. Keep your feet clean, dry, and moisturized to maintain overall foot health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the early signs of arthritis in feet?

Early signs of arthritis in the feet include pain, swelling, and stiffness. The pain might be intermittent and may occur after physical activity. More details here.

How does walking affect arthritis in feet?

Walking can cause flares of pain in arthritis-affected feet. However, it is an essential activity for maintaining joint mobility. More information on this topic.

What are the symptoms of arthritis on the top of the foot?

Arthritis symptoms on the top of the foot include pain, swelling, and stiffness. These symptoms may worsen with movement or activity. Here is more information about foot arthritis symptoms.

How is osteoarthritis in feet treated?

Osteoarthritis treatment involves managing symptoms through medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. In some cases, surgery might be necessary. Here is additional information on treatment options.

What steps can be taken to prevent foot arthritis?

To prevent foot arthritis, maintain a healthy weight, avoid injuries, engage in regular physical activity, and wear supportive shoes. More prevention tips can be found here.

At what age does arthritis typically begin to develop in feet?

Arthritis can develop at any age but is more common in older adults. It is essential to monitor for early signs and seek medical attention. Learn more about arthritis and age.

Summing it Up: How to Know if Foot Pain is Arthritis

If you are experiencing foot pain, it is important to consider the possibility of arthritis. By understanding the symptoms and risk factors associated with arthritis in the feet, you can take proactive steps toward diagnosis and treatment.

Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Proper care and management can alleviate foot pain and improve overall quality of life.


  1. Verywell Health
  2. Healthline
  3. Foot and Ankle Group
  4. Medical News Today
  5. Verywell Health