As the Williams sisters joined the international team tennis competition called the Fed Cup this past week, it is astonishing to look at the health and foot and ankle problems they have had to overcome to continue to be a force in the world of tennis. In 2011, not only did Serena survive a pulmonary embolism following several foot surgeries, but in August Venus finally received a diagnosis for a variety of symptoms that had plagued her for the past 4 years. After visiting many doctors, Venus Williams eventual diagnosis was the autoimmune connective tissue disease that can affect the feet called Sjogren syndrome.
While most people have heard of rheumatoid arthritis, which is also an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the joints, few have heard of Sjogren syndrome even though it is the second most common autoimmune joint disease. Rheumatoid arthritis or a variety of other autoimmune disorders often occurs with Sjogren syndrome, adding even more damage to the joints of the body. Chronic fatigue and difficulty breathing were some of the initial symptoms that brought Venus to seek a diagnosis for her condition. Women are most commonly affected by Sjogren syndrome, with dry mouth and dry eyes being some of the cardinal signs of the disease as white blood cells multiply past their normal amount.
Venus also noted that she developed misshaped joints and swelling. These are the rheumatological aspects of Sjogren that can affect the feet and could have contributed to foot pain while playing tennis. If rheumatoid arthritis is occurring with Sjogren syndrome, the toes and area of the foot closest to the bases of the toes can be the first site where the autoimmune joint destruction can be seen on an x-ray. As the joint is destroyed, the space between the adjacent bones becomes smaller and motion becomes limited and painful. When this occurs in the foot, your podiatrist can prescribe custom orthotics to limit painful motion during walking or in severe cases perform surgery to fuse the joint and stop all motion, and thus pain from occurring. Another common symptom in the foot and ankle in Sjogren syndrome is neuropathy, or loss of sensation. Like the neuropathy that occurs in diabetes, special attention is required to prevent ulcers and subsequent infection in these areas where the individual can no longer feel.
Venus’s Sjogren syndrome symptomsseem to be relatively mild at this stage and she has begun medication to limit the pain and damage caused by her body’s overactive immune system. As Venus makes her return to professional tennis competition this week, her story should serve as a message in perseverance to those suffering from medical problems. A patient knows when something is painful or wrong with their own body and should seek medical attention until the problem can be identified. Had Venus not persisted in finding out her diagnosis, she would not have been able to improve her tennis and quality of life.
Please visit www.ColumbusFoot.com for more information or call 614-885 FEET (3338) to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Podiatry & Surgery is located on the North side of Columbus, Ohio near Worthington.