Gout is among the most common and painful types of inflammatory arthritis. It’s caused by excess uric acid and most often affects the lower extremities, particularly the feet and big toes.¹
With a uric acid buildup in the body, sharp urate crystals can form in the big toe joint, ankles, or other areas of the foot. This can lead to inflammation and potentially what’s known as a gout attack.
So, what does gout feel like, exactly, and how do you know if you’re experiencing a gout attack? Vionic is here to answer these questions and provide helpful insight into identifying, managing, and how to prevent gout. Learn more about Vionic footwear and even find comfortable sandals below.
What Does Gout Feel Like in the Feet?
What does gout pain feel like? Gout could be comparable to a severe toe-stubbing or traumatic foot injury, except for one major difference—gout attacks can last for days or even weeks without relief.
Gout is characterized by sudden bouts of:
- Intense pain
- Tenderness in the affected joint
If you experience sharp, severe pain in your big toe joint or other areas of the foot, a buildup of uric acid could be the culprit.
Gout attacks can happen suddenly, often in the middle of the night.² You might experience severe foot pain or an intense pain on the big toe. It might even feel immensely painful, hot, or as if the weight of a blanket or the pressure of a sock is intolerable. Some people describe it as feeling like their foot is on fire, though sensations vary among individuals.
What to Know About Gout Attacks
Some people may experience frequent gout attacks or gout flare-ups. However, they occur much less often for others, sometimes as seldom as every few years. Acute gout attacks typically peak 12 to 24 hours after they begin, then slowly resolve over the course of several days. Without treatment, full recovery from an acute gout attack usually takes about a week or two.³
Gout attacks may repeatedly occur in the same joint, though some gout sufferers experience them in different joints throughout the feet. Additionally, people typically don’t have any gout symptoms in between attacks. And generally speaking, untreated gout puts an individual at risk for chronic gout, as well as more frequent and longer-lasting attacks or gout flare ups.⁴
4 Signs of Gout in the Feet
What is the first sign of gout, and what other symptoms should you look out for? Some of the most common indicators of gout include severe joint pain, inflammation, lingering joint discomfort, and a decreased range of motion. Here’s what you should know.
Severe Joint Pain
Severe, throbbing pain in the joint is the most common (and often the first) gout symptom. It usually occurs in the big toe, though it’s possible to experience sharp pain in any joint, including your ankles and knees.⁵ Also, gout in the feet will most likely feel most painful for the first day or so and then begin to subside.
Though lots of things can cause inflammation, it’s one of the main signs of gout. Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury, illness, infection, or an underlying disease. It typically involves swelling, but you might also experience warmth, tenderness, or redness around the affected joint.
Lingering Joint Discomfort
While people don’t typically have gout symptoms between attacks, you might experience lingering discomfort for one to three weeks after the onset.
Decreased Range of Motion
When recurrent gout progresses without treatment, many people experience a decreased range of motion. Over time, an individual may no longer be able to move their joints normally.
What Does Gout Look Like?
Now that you’re up to speed on what gout feels like, you might be wondering if there are any visible symptoms to look out for. In some cases, you might notice one or more lumps around the joint.⁶
Sometimes called tophi, these hard protrusions are caused by a buildup of uric acid around the soft tissue lining a joint.⁷ They may become infected, which could ultimately result in further damage to the joint or, in severe cases, a physical disability. And as mentioned above, the inflammation can cause swelling or redness.
Should You See a Doctor?
If you experience sharp, sudden pain in your foot or toe joint or notice any other signs of gout, it’s best to contact a physician. Untreated gout can lead to worsened pain and potentially permanent joint damage. And if you have a fever in addition to swelling and severe gout pain, you should seek immediate care, as it could be a sign of a serious infection.
How Gout Is Diagnosed
If you think you may have gout, a rheumatologist can assess your symptoms, perform some tests, and potentially make a diagnosis.
Here’s what a joint specialist will consider before confirming gout:
- Symptoms including pain, inflammation, discomfort, and tophi
- Duration of symptoms
- Uric acid level in your blood
- Presence of uric acid crystals in synovial fluid extracted from the joint
- Imaging of the joint, such as an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound
Depending on your provider and specific symptoms you’ve experienced, diagnosis may be quick, requiring minimal testing. In other cases, you may need to follow up with additional tests.⁶
What Kind of Treatment Can Help With Gout?
Once the problem’s been diagnosed, it’s time to find a solution. You may receive different advice and gout treatment plans from medical professionals, and you may also seek out home treatments to mitigate the symptoms of gout. Ultimately, you’ll need to use your discretion to decide what’s right for your scenario.
Common treatment methods for gout include:8
- Over-the-counter medication –You might already have an effective treatment for gout waiting in your medicine cabinet. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include common pain relief medications available at any local pharmacy. You’ll still want to pay close attention to dosing instructions to avoid adverse reactions and continue to monitor your gout as it begins to subside. Hopefully, you’ll be able to nip the gout pain in the bud and start feeling better sooner.
- Corticosteroids –Corticosteroids are a powerful treatment for excessive swelling and inflammations, used to treat a variety of illnesses and health problems. You’ll need a doctor’s prescription to use this effective method.
- Medications to manage uric acid –Because uric acid is the main culprit for an acute attack, managing the source of the problem can reduce the frequency and severity of this unpleasant health problem. There are several medications on the market that may help control your uric acid level, though you’ll need to consult with a healthcare professional to find out if these drugs are right for you.
How Can I Prevent Gout?
If you’re not interested in adding any medication to your routine or hoping for a solution to manage your gout at home, don’t forget about preventative measures.
What Foods Cause Gout?
Diet is a leading cause of gouty arthritis. Certain foods contain purine, crystalline compounds that create uric acid when metabolized. When you eat foods high in purine, it can increase uric acid levels in the body and elevate your risk of developing gouty arthritis.
Foods that can increase urate levels include:
- Red meat
- Shellfish and other types of seafood
- Beer and other types of alcohol
- Fructose (fruit sugar)
Eating fresh fruit isn’t typically a cause for concern. However, fruit juice and fructose-sweetened drinks could be an issue when consumed in high volumes.
The good news is that certain foods can actually help lower uric acid levels and potentially keep future gout attacks at bay.9 This includes whole grains, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
Other Causes and Risk Factors for Gout
A uric acid buildup in the bloodstream is one of the primary known causes of gout. That said, the condition can be a result of various other things, such as dehydration, diuretic medications, thyroid problems, metabolism disorders, and genetics.
Risk factors for gout include heavy alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, chronic kidney disease, and sleep apnea. Additionally, middle-aged men and postmenopausal women are more likely to develop gout than the general population.
How Proper Footwear Can Help With Gout Symptoms
Gout symptoms typically come and go with attacks, but the condition is treatable and even preventable with a certain medication and lifestyle change. If you’re a gout patient living with gouty arthritis symptoms in feet, one thing you can do is swap out your shoes for supportive footwear.
Orthotic shoes, like the styles from Vionic, offer adequate arch support and stability while helping with alignment issues and reducing strain on the feet, toes, ankles, and knees. Wearing our podiatrist-engineered footwear can alleviate foot pain, discomfort, and inflammation in your lower extremities.
We carry a broad range of shoe styles for men and women, including active trainers, casual sneakers, walking shoes, flats, boots, slippers, and comfortable walking sandals. Browse our collections today! Wondering, is walking good for arthritis in the feet? Visit Vionic for advice from our experts today.
- “Gout”. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gout/symptoms-causes/syc-20372897
- “Gout”. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4755-gout
- “Symptoms and Diagnosis of Gout”. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/arthritis-info/gout/clinical-presentation-of-gout/
- “Gout”. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/gout
- Lydia Kibet .”What to know about gout in the big toe”. Medical News Today. October 21, 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gout-in-big-toe
- Theodore R. Fields. “Gout: Risk Factors, Diagnosis and Treatment”. Hospital for Special Surgery. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_gout-risk-factors-diagnosis-treatment.asp
- “Tophi gout in hand”. Medline Plus. April8, 2019, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/19833.htm
- Ryan Raman. “Best Diet for Gout: What to Eat, What to Avoid”. Healthline. September 26, 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-diet-for-gout
- “Gout”. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/gout.html