With hundreds of combined joints, bones, tendons, muscles and ligaments in your feet, it’s no wonder that many gout attacks affect the foot – often the big toe and at times, the instep, ankle, and heel. What is particularly dangerous about a painful foot affliction associated with gout is that it can limit overall mobility and lead to behaviors which negatively impact health like avoiding exercising and practicing bad posture.
What is gout exactly? Gout is a debilitating form of arthritis that results from an overproduction of uric acid in the body. Some dietary triggers like bacon, chicken, shellfish, beef, fried foods, and alcohol contain chemical compounds called purines. When those purines are ingested and broken down, it cues the body to produce uric acid which can cause needle-like crystals to form around joints, especially in the big toe. These crystals cause mild to severe inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Gout sufferers who experience an attack in joints in and around the foot may find it hard to stay mobile until the symptoms subside.
When it comes to your feet, simple foot care before and between gout attacks, as well as smart, tactical steps to caring for feet during an attack can help big time. Check out these 8 foot care tips for gout sufferers:
Manual massage of painful joints has been shown in multiple studies to help relieve discomfort and soothe inflammation. Experts believe that pressure massage stimulates metabolic function, increases blood flow, breaks up scar tissue, and prevents muscle spasming. Between and during a gout attack, joint alignment and massage can be done at home by you or your spouse, or by a massage therapist, potentially recommended by your doctor.
Inflammation and tenderness of vulnerable foot joints experiencing a gout attack may be aided by ice therapy. Application of an ice pack, ice massage, or soaking your foot in a cool bath (cold water immersion) can help slow the conductivity of spasming nerve endings sending pain signals back to the brain. Never apply an ice pack or soak your foot in a cool bath (between 50 and 59 degrees fahrenheit) for more than 10 or 20 minutes at a time to avoid ice burn. And for ice massage, rubbing a large ice cube in circles over the foot for no more than 5 minutes can help as well.
DIY Gout Socks
Even soft socks can apply pressure to an affected big toe joint resulting in discomfort and pain. Ditch the “toe” part of the sock by cutting a hole where the big toe goes or chopping off the top section of the sock entirely to let toes roam free. This will keep feet warm and comfortable, and release pressure off swollen and tender joints.
If a gout attack has you hobbling, get that foot in the air. Elevating the foot above heart level is easy to do if you sit on the bed or couch and prop it up with pillows. Raising the foot during an attack can help decrease swelling which reduces pressure on the joint and diminishes the pain signals being sent back to the brain.
Staying hydrated plays an important role in overall prevention of a gout attack by helping to flush out the uric acid that builds up and causes crystal formation in the joints. Healthy hydration also helps regulate blood pressure, and with hypertension being a risk factor for gout, it is important to check out a blood pressure reading chart, monitor bp from home, and drink water often. Some beverages like coffee, sugary drinks, and alcohol have been linked to an increased risk of gout attack for gout sufferers, so water is always the best choice for staying hydrated.
Basic Foot Maintenance
Prevent other painful foot conditions from developing and exacerbating joint pain by practicing good nail and foot care. Trim nails straight across and not at a curve so as to prevent ingrown toenails. Wash and dry feet thoroughly each day and moisturize with a hydrating lotion to keep skin supple and flexible. And avoid wearing tight shoes and heels which can irritate foot skin as well as cause bunions, hammer toes, calluses, corns, and bone spurs.
Use a Cane
Bearing weight on stiff, gout-affected foot and ankle joints results in even greater pain and discomfort. A mobility aid like a walking cane can alleviate some of this pain during gout attacks as well as assist with maintaining balance. The big toe is especially important for sustaining an upright and balanced posture – if unable to bear weight on it, a cane will become a handy (albeit temporary) device as will a knee scooter for more serious cases. A 3 or 4-wheeled knee scooter allows someone to completely take the weight off their bad foot by bending their leg back at the knee and resting it up on a platform. They can then hold onto bicycle-like handle bars and maneuver around with their good leg as needed without exacerbating their painful joint.
Stretch & Strengthen
Stretching and strengthening joints and connective tissues in the foot can help combat limited joint mobility which may occur as gout progresses. When comfortable, in between attacks, stretch and strengthen feet by doing things like practicing yoga poses like Downward Facing Dog, or dropping pencils and pens on the ground and picking them up with your toes to place them in a bucket or bin.
It’s important to know that gout affects men more than women, roughly 75% of gout sufferers are men and 25% women. Gout, also known as gouty arthritis, largely results from over consumption of trigger foods high in purines which stimulate uric acid production in the body. Good foot care should also involve incorporating less trigger foods and more whole grains, plant-based proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables into your diet; not just because it can help stave off attacks, but because a balanced diet also supports a healthy weight which places less stress and strain on your feet and legs.
Just as gout attacks can help be prevented or lessened by modifying diet and taking medicine, so can a little foot care go a long way in stifling pain, reducing inflammation, and supporting healthy, strong feet.