Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Autoimmune Feet

Geez, I really hate my feet.

Wow, that came out wrong. What I meant to say is that I really hate the way my feet feel these days.

They've never been my favorite appendages, especially when I hit adolescence and my feet grew two shoe sizes in one year and the tops of my big toes sprouted hair. Eww.... I was certain that I had the grossest feet in all of my high school, the state, and certainly in the entire world. But at some point, my feet and I developed a grudging acceptance of each other, especially after I acquired a deft hand when shaving my legs (and toe hairs) and noticed that there were at least two other girls on the dance squad that had bigger shoe sizes than me.

My feet and I have tolerated each other since then as long as there's a reasonable amount of toenail polish left on my toenails from the occasional pedicure. But lately, my feet have been harder to get along with. As a matter of fact, they've been downright cranky. And I know why.

Yes, I can blame my tootsie troubles on Sjogren's syndrome. Well, actually everything except their double digit size. What troubles?

They hurt. In various ways.

Sjogren's has depleted my skin of moisture, and this is especially noticeable in my feet. I can blob on moisturizer for my hands and arms several times a day because they're, well, handy. But since it takes more effort to actually take off my shoes and socks, my feet suffer because of my lazybutt tendencies. The skin especially on my heels becomes so dry and callused that it occasionally cracks open to the raw tissue below. If I am especially careful to keep applying non-drying moisturizers such as body butters, I can avoid these heel cracks for the most part, but not always.

Autoimmune-related peripheral neuropathy makes my feet tingle and burn and ache almost constantly.

When I am in a flare, the joints of my feet are painful and the weight of bedclothing on them at night is enough to cause pain, and that's before I put the heft of my body weight on them. I"m glad that I am not flaring right now. Post-holiday Julia here has several more pounds to inflict on my weight bearing feet. Ah, but that's another topic....

So what do I do to minimize these aches and pains?

When my joints are painful during a flare, it helps to know that once the flare recedes, the joint pain goes away as well. Rest, rest, and more rest along with medications as directed by my doctor ease the symptoms considerably.

I am trying to be more diligent in applying soothing moisturizers to my feet, keeping in mind that skin care lotions can often cause more drying due to their alcohol content, and thus causing more harm than good. I try to use products that are described as "cremes" or "butters" since those products contain fewer alcohols. I also try to avoid products that are heavily scented or contain peppermint, since for me, they seem to only aggravate the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

My fancy free barefoot days are gone since autoimmune disease appeared. Barefoot romps outdoors seem to dry and irritate my feet, and when I am bumbling around on one of my brain fog days,  I inevitably stub my toes or step on something sharp.

Aside from protecting my feet from my clumsiness, a good-fitting pair of shoes and a set of natural fiber socks provides cushion and support for my feet. Gone are the days of squeeeeeezzzzzziiiiinnnng my feet into shoes that look irresistible in the box but are a smidge too small. I have had to swallow my pride and present my hefty tootsies to the kind folks at a reputable shoe store, who didn't bat an eye as they measured my feet.

And by the way, it's embarrassing enough to stand in a small store with a couple dozen teensy-footed women within earshot and order shoes in a size 10 or 11, but some of the better shoes are sized by european measurements which translates to a 42. Forty two.

"What size did you say, ma'am?" um...forty two. "What did you say? I can't hear you." Forty two.  "DID YOU SAY FORTY TWO?" Why, yes I did. Let's just go ahead an shout it so everyone can hear, shall we? Better yet, how about making a large poster and feature my face and my shoe size in your largest window? How about that? Wait, wait - there's a billboard available on the freeway, why don't we just post it there??

Me? Exaggerate? Never.

You can read more about foot care here from the National Institutes of Health, and here from the American Podiatric Medical Association.  Image by jazza


Denise @ Sunflowers, Chocolate and Little Boys said...

I have the same foot issues, minus the hairy toes and double digit size =D anyway, the dryness is horrible and my heels crack too. And flares suck. suck. suck. AND my husband thinks that getting up and doing MORE would make me feel better during a flare. Why cant he understand?@?!?!?

annie said...

Thank you for the laughter while addressing a serious topic. Have you tried moisturizing your feet at night and wearing socks to bed? That way your tootsies will have the benefit of being soothed all night long, while you rest (hopefully). I have increasing arthritis-like joint pain including toes,knees, and from the shoulders all the way down to my fingers.A few weeks ago, I thought I was having a stroke as I could not feel my arm or fingers. I'm also coping with being incredibly cold all the time, especially my hands and feet. Does anyone else have the same problem? How do you cope with this?

Julia Oleinik said...

Hi, Annie - yes, when my heels are really really bad I do the moisturizer plus socks nightly routine, good reminder.

I'm a little concerned about your numbness in your arm and fingers. Neurological issues can occur as a result of autoimmune diseases but always deserve a thorough evaluation by a neurologist. Be sure you mention this in your next dr. appt, OK?

Cold hands and feet could also be another neurological symptom manifested as Raynaud's, pretty common in autoimmune diseases.

We Sjoggies live such interesting lives....

Unknown said...

Beautiful feet enhances the charm in oneself. I personally recommend foot massager for smooth and soft feet.One can check these best foot massager reviews too.

Anonymous said...

I recommend a Ped Egg for calloused heels. It is truly amazing. If your heels are cracked, use the Ped Egg on alternate days. I've been to aggressive and it resulted in getting sore heels.

Sjogrenspoonie said...

I, too, have experienced extremely dry and cracked heels. I also have extreme numbness in my arms and legs periodically. If I cross my legs while I lay in bed, the leg on the bottom goes numb within seconds. I experience the effects of Raynaud's in the winter where I have to wear three pairs of thick socks and my feet still get so cold, they go numb for hours. Sjogren's has been kicking my ass for about a year now. Most recently, I have been experiencing a constant pain in my upper right abdomen that gets worse when I am sitting. I hear it may be my liver but I have not gotten confirmation from my doctor yet. Hope everyone finds adequate treatment to help you deal with Sjogren's because it's not easy. Best of luck.

Unknown said...

I am an EDS-er (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) as well as Sjogrens. My heels crack regularly. I seem to be successful (when I stay on top of it, lol) with doing Epsom salt baths at least weekly (you can purchase some that is intended for whole body immersion which helps "other areas" as well), using a pumpice which helps maintain a healthy outer layer & lanolin creme is the best! You can find it in the breast feeding isle.