The Ultimate Guide to Foot Pain and Its Causes
Foot pain is not a “one cause fits all” problem. Our feet are very complex and a simple ache or pain could be caused by a number of factors. If you suffer from ongoing foot pain and have yet to find out the cause, this guide can help point you in the right direction.
Once you have a better understanding of the different types of foot pain conditions and their causes, you can learn how to treat the issue correctly. If you have any type of foot pain that you are still unsure about, be sure to get in touch with a podiatrist for assistance. They can help diagnose your problem and provide you with treatment options to help alleviate the pain.
Table of Contents
- Heel Pain
- Ball of Foot Pain
- Arch Pain
- Toe Pain
- Pain on the Foot's Outer Edge
- Other Foot Conditions
Foot Pain Conditions and It's Causes
Foot pain conditions can be broken down in several categories based on the area of the foot the pain is in. Here we will discuss the different types of foot pain associated with the heel, ball of foot, arch, toes, and the outer edge of the foot.
Heel pain is usually caused by a condition known as Plantar Fasciitis. This foot condition usually begins as a heel spur and becomes worse over time. Fractures of the heel can also cause severe pan to occur.
Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. It is also known as heel spur syndrome, if there is a spur present. When you have plantar fasciitis, there is inflammation of the band of tissue, also known as the plantar fascia, that stretches from the heel to the toe. With this foot condition the fascia becomes irritated at first, then later becomes inflamed. This inflammation causes pain in the heel.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
A common cause for plantar fasciitis is related to the sometimes faulty structure of our feet. Some people have a problem with high arches of their feet. Others may have issues with flat feet or no arch.
Plantar fasciitis can also be caused by wearing non-supportive footwear on hard or flat surfaces, overuse or standing for long hours, or obesity.
What are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
- Pain in the bottom of the heel
- Pain that is worse upon standing
- Pain that increases over a period of time
- Swelling at the bottom of the heel
- Pain in the arch of the foot
How Can I Treat Plantar Fasciitis?
There are several non-surgical treatment options for plantar fasciitis. And certainly there are natural practices and treatments as well. Most others include the following.
- Muscle stretches that focus on the calf muscles.
- Wearing comfortable shoes with plantar fasciitis insoles that can offer support. We recommend our ReliefSole.
- Limiting your activities.
- Essential Oils and other treatments at home
- Wearing a plantar fasciitis night splint or utilizing a trigger point massage ball
- Taking nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or other NSAIDS.
- Massage therapy
- Using other foot pain relief products as recommended by your doctor or chiropractor.
A heel spur is a calcium deposit which cause a bony protrusion to form at the bottom of the heel bone. Heel spurs are known to extend forward as long as a half-inch. They are usually painless but they are known to cause heel pain that can last for several months. Heel spurs can sometimes lead to other conditions like plantar fasciitis, but they can also be a problem all on their own.
What Causes Heel Spurs?
A heel spur forms when calcium deposits are built up on the bottom or underside of the heel bone. They are often caused by strains to the ligaments or muscles of the foot, stretching of the plantar fascia, or repeated tearing of the sensitive membrane that covers the heel bone. Heel spurs are very common among athletes.
What are the Symptoms of Heel Spurs?
Typically heel spurs have no symptoms, but they can cause chronic pain and inflammation. Many people describe the pain as feeling like a needle or knife sticking into the bottom of their feet when they first stand up from bed in the morning.
How Can I Treat Heel Spurs?
If you are wondering how to get rid of heel spurs, here are a few treatment options.
- Applying a cold compress.
- Wearing shoes with firm heel support.
- Utilizing Inserts or Insoles like ReliefSole
- Taking anti-inflammatory pain medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
- Calf or Toe Stretches
- Corticosteroid Injections
A heel fracture is any type of fracture to the heel bone or calcaneus. This can be a very painful and sometimes disabling injury to the foot. Heel fractures can cover a large variety of foot problems and pain issues.
What Causes Heel Fractures?
A heel fracture is often caused by a serious accident or injury such as a car crash or a fall from a high distance. Any time that the heel is crushed by your body’s weight or another object can cause a heel fracture.
What are the Symptoms of Heel Fractures?
The symptoms of a heel fracture can include:
- A sudden pain in the heel that is so bad you can’t put weight on your foot.
- Swelling in the heel area
- Bruising of the heel or ankle, or both.
How Can I Treat Heel Fractures?
- There are several things you can do to treat a heel fracture.
- Use crutches to walk and don’t put pressure on your heel.
- Protect your heel using padding, a splint or a cast.
- Take over-the-counter pain medication.
- Physical therapy may help with walking once you start to heal
- Ask your physician if surgery is an option if the pain doesn’t subside over time.
Ball of Foot Pain
The ball of foot is the padded area located on the sole of our feet between the toes and the arch. It is where the weight of the body rests any time the heel is raised. Ball of foot pain is also commonly referred to as Metatarsalgia.
MetatarsalgiaMetatarsalgia is a common foot pain condition where the ball of the foot is inflamed. Many times it is referred to as a symptom instead of a specific disease or disorder of the foot.
What Causes Metatarsalgia?
Between he metatarsal bones in the foot are tiny nerves. When one metatarsal bone presses against another, the nerves between them become inflamed. This is the cause of metatarsalgia. Anytime you put weight on your foot, it can cause the symptoms to worsen. That’s because the bones are rubbing together with every step. Metatarsalgia may also be caused by specific medical conditions.
What are the Symptoms of Metatarsalgia?
The pain from metatarsalgia can be mild or severe. It is much stronger whenever the individual stands or moves. It will also become worse when flexing the toes. If you have this foot pain condition, you will notice either a burning or a shooting pain in your toes.
You may also feet a sharp aching pain, tingling, or numbness. This condition can affect both the toes and the ball of the foot. The symptoms often develop slowly over time, but they have also been known to show up suddenly, especially an increase in physical activity occurred.
How Can I Treat Metatarsalgia?
There are a few things that you can do to treat metatarsalgia.
- Apply ice to the area several times throughout the day, for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen.
- Keep pressure off your feet and prop your feet up while resting.
Morton’s Neuroma is a very painful foot condition that affects the ball of the foot. Pain is commonly present in the area located between the third and fourth toes.
What Causes Morton’s Neuroma?
Morton’s Neuroma is caused by the thickening of the tissue located around a nerve in your foot that leads to your toes.
What are the Symptoms of Morton’s Neuroma?
The symptoms of Morton’s Neuroma include:
- Sharp or burning pain in the ball of the foot.
- Stinging, burning, or numbness in the toes.
How Can I Treat Morton’s Neuroma?
For treatment to be successful, you should consider the following factors regarding your Morton’s neuroma pain.
- What is the severity of your symptoms?
- How long has the pain been present?
- Have you attempted home treatment or over-the-counter medications?
Some patients may require surgery for their condition depending on how severe the pain is and how it affects their everyday life. Additional treatment options include changing to a different type of footwear, taking pain medication, or having steroid injections.
Pain in the arch of the foot can be caused by several different conditions, including Plantar Fasciitis. While plantar fasciitis is already listed as a type of heel pain, the plantar fascia stretches from the heel of our foot to the toes. Therefore, it is considered as a type of arch pain as well.
How Does Plantar Fasciitis Affect the Arch of the Foot?
If you have a very high arch, or no arch at all, it is possible that you will develop plantar fasciitis. Achilles tendonitis, which is the tightening of the tendons from your calf muscles to your heels, can also cause plantar fascia pain.
Fallen Arches (Flat Feet)
Another type of arch pain is Fallen Arches, also known as Flat Feet. If your feet have a very low arch, or no arch at all, it could cause pain to the plantar fascia, which goes back to a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis.
Fallen arches occur when the tendons in the foot do not pull at the right amount. This means they do not create an adequate arch.
The Causes of Flat Feet
- Birth abnormality
- Stretched or torn tendons
- Damage or inflammation to the posterior tibial tendon
- Dislocated or broken bones
- Health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Nerve issues
There are several other factors that could increase your risk of developing flat feet. They include:
The Symptoms of Flat Feet or Fallen Arches
If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor or podiatrist.
- Swelling of the inside bottoms of your feet.
- Feet tire very easily.
- Back and leg pain.
- Foot movement, like standing on your toes, is difficult.
- Painful or aching feet in the areas of the heel or arches.
Treatment for Flat Feet or Fallen Arches
Treatment options for flat feet or fallen arches depends on the cause of the problem and how severe it is. If your fallen arches do not cause you any pain and they don’t have a negative effect on your daily activities, then you don’t necessarily need treatment. However, if you do experience pain in the arch of your foot, or have difficulty with exercise and activities, you should consult with your doctor. They can suggest a practical treatment option for you.
You can also receive relief from having proper insoles that provide arch support. There are plenty to choose from but we recommend the ReliefSole orthopedic Insoles.
There is a long list of conditions associated with toe pain. You may have several of these conditions that account for your toe pain, or you may only have one. Either way, they can cause pain that ranges from mild to severe, and make it difficult for you to walk, wear various types of shoes, or exercise.
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. It develops in individuals who have increased levels of uric acid in their blood. The acid forms small crystals in the joints and causes severe pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, and warmth to the area. There are several different types of gout which include:
- Asymptomatic hyperuricemia
- Acute gout or gout attack
- Interval gout
- Chronic gout
Gout is caused by several different factors such as.
- Family history
- Health conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Medications such as diuretics which can raise uric levels.
- Gender and age.
- A diet rich in shellfish and red meat.
- Drinking excess alcohol.
- Drinking excess sodas that contain fructose.
- If you have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
To treat gout, your doctor or podiatrist will prescribe medication or suggest you take an over-the-counter NSAID for the pain.
A bunion is a bony, painful hump that is located at the base of your big toe. They form at the joint where the toe bends when you walk. Their causes include family history, other foot conditions and various forms of arthritis such as osteoarthritis.
There are few symptoms associated with bunions. If you notice a bony bump at the bottom of your big toe, and the toe is pointing in the opposite direction, it’s likely that you have a bunion forming.
Surgery is one option for treating bunions. There are also several products available that can help to take the stress off your bunion and lessen the pain.
Hammertoe is a foot condition where the toe has an abnormal bend in the middle joint. It is often caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow in the tow. It usually affects the toe next to your big toe. Symptoms can include pain in that specific toe or difficulty moving it. Treatment for hammertoe includes wearing shoes that have more room in the toes, using shoe inserts and pads, or in severe cases, surgery.
Claw toe occurs when a toe is contracted at the middle or end joints. This can cause severe pain and pressure to occur. The cause of claw toe is due to tendons and ligaments tightening, which results in the toe curling downward.
The main cause is this foot condition is muscle imbalance. They can occur in any toe, except the big toe. Symptoms include discomfort, especially when wearing shoes. There are two types of this disorder, flexible and rigid. With flexible claw toe, you can still move the joint, with rigid, the toe does not have the ability to move.
Treatment involves changing footwear or using products such as toe crests or hammer toe splints designed to relieve the issue.
Foot corns are round areas of thick skin that appears on the feet and toes. They are caused by frequent, repeated pressure on the skin or rubbing your toes against the inside of your shoes. Corns are caused by wearing shoes that are too tight that leads to friction.
There are two types, hard and soft corns. A hard corn will have a small patch of thick, dead skin in the center A soft corn will have a much thinner surface and show up between the 4th and 5th toes. Corns and Calluses are our body’s way of preventing blisters from forming.
The same treatment methods apply to corns as calluses. You can usually eliminate a foot corn by soaking your feet, keeping them moisturized and using corn or callus pads.
Calluses are thickened, hardened parts of the skin or soft tissue subjected to friction. A foot callus should not be confused with a corn. While there are some similarities, corns and calluses are two completely different foot conditions.
Calluses can show up on our hands and feet. Those that appear on the feet are known as plantar calluses. These are tough and thickened areas of skin that form on the bottom of the foot, or plantar side. They frequently occur on the plantar fascia.
Plantar calluses are formed by frequent pressure or friction applied to a specific part of the foot. They are very common and usually do not cause a problem unless they become painful. If you do not experience any issues with you callus there is no need to see a doctor, unless you have diabetes, heart disease or circulatory problems, or if your callus has a clear or pus-like discharge.
Symptoms include gray or yellowish skin that feels rough dry and flaky. They can be painful when direct pressure is applied.
Soaking your feet in warm water or wearing padded inserts can often treat mild calluses. If the callus must be removed, your podiatrist can do this using a scalpel.
An ingrown toenail, also known as onychocryptosis, is a foot condition where the corner or side of a nail grows into the flesh of the toe. These are very common with over 3 million cases reported each year.
Symptoms include pain, redness and swelling at the affected nail and the area where the nail is growing into the toe. The condition often affects the big toe the most, and individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of having complications with it.
Treatment includes care from your podiatrist, lifting or removing the toenail, and using antibiotics.
Turf Toe is the spraining of the big toe joint, it is usually caused by a sports injury or accident where the toe was jammed or from a repetitive injury caused by pushing off when jumping or running. The result causes an excessive upward bending of the toe joint.
Turf toe is very common among professional athlete such as those who play on artificial turf, which is where the condition got its name. The foot can stick to the hard surface which results in jamming of the big toe joint.
Symptoms include pain, swelling and limited movement of the joint. Turf toe can be treated with rest, cold compresses and elevation. In severe cases, surgery may be required.
Toe sprains can cover a variety of toe conditions. Toe sprains are caused by a tear in the ligaments that provide support to the toe. The ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect the bones to each other. Sprains can be caused by trauma or too much tension.
Symptoms include pain and tenderness of the toe, pain any time you move your toe, bruising and swelling. Treatment for sprains is RICE therapy, which is Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
A toe fracture is often caused by an accident, injury, or trauma to the foot. Repetitive movement can often lead to a type of broken toe that is known as a hairline fracture.
The symptoms of a fracture include bruising or discoloration of the toe and pain while walking or applying weight to the foot. The treatment for a toe fracture depends o the severity of it and the location. Your doctor or podiatrist can help you treat your toe fracture so that it heals properly.
Pain on the Foot’s Outer Edge
Also known as lateral or side of foot pain, this is a foot condition that is common with athletes and runners. Injury to the complex area of bones, tendons, muscle and connective tissue are the main cause of this pain. It can show up gradually or appear suddenly. There are several conditions that can cause pain on the outside of the foot. These can include:
- Tarsal coalition
- Inversions or ankle sprains
- Cuboid syndrome
- Peroneal tendonitis
- Corns or calluses
- Stress fractures
Treatment for lateral foot pain depends on how severe the pain is. For mild pain, you can receive treatment with R.I.C.E. Medication or changing the type of shoes you wear are good treatment options for moderate to severe pain. Muscle strengthening exercises are also a good option.
Fifth Metatarsal Bone Fracture
One of the most common foot fractures is the area of the fifth metatarsal bone. A fifth metatarsal fracture is a break of the long bone that connects the foot to the little toe. There are two types of fifth metatarsal fractures:
Avulsion fracture: this occurs when a small bone is pulled from the main portion of the tendon or ligament. It is often caused by an injury to the ankle.
Jones Fracture: This occurs in a small area of the fifth metatarsal in a location that receives less blood than the rest of the toe. This makes it more difficult to heal. A Jones fracture can either be a stress fracture or an acute (sudden)fracture. These are not as common as avulsion fractures and can be more difficult to treat.
Symptoms of a fifth metatarsal bone fracture include pain, swelling and tenderness on the outside of the foot, bruising and difficulty walking.
Treatment includes the RICE method, Immobilization, and Bone Stimulation.
Other Foot Conditions
There are other foot conditions that don’t necessarily fall under the above categories. These conditions can cause numbness along with pain and they usually affect the entire foot instead of just one area.
Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to the peripheral nerves. It can cause numbness, weakness and pain to the hands and feet. It can also cause numbness in other parts of the body. The condition results from traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic issues, diabetes, or having a family history of the disorder.
Symptoms of neuropathy include:
- Numbness, prickling, or tingling feeling in your hands and feet.
- Sharp, throbbing, jabbing, throbbing, burning or freezing pain.
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle weakness
Treatment includes physical therapy, exercises, and medication.
Nerve damage in the feet is a result of neuropathy that has not been treated properly. Damaged nerves will often send pain signals to the brain and put you at risk for serious issues. Nerve damage can cause a stabbing or prickling pain to occur or cause your feet to feel like they are burning. Treatment is often provided in the form of mediation either over-the-counter or prescription.
Tendinitis is a condition where the tissues connected the muscles to the bone are inflamed. It can occur all throughout the body. In the foot, most cases are known as Achilles tendinitis, also known as tendinitis of the heel.
It is common in runners and anyone who played sports in their youth. The heel pain and tenderness are the key symptoms. Treatment often includes at-home care under a doctor’s supervision with rest and pain medication.
What is the R.I.C.E. Treatment Method?
Many foot pain conditions can be treated at home using the R.I.C.E. Treatment Method.
- Rest – Rest and protect the injured area. Stop and take a break from exercise and activities if your pain gets worse.
- Ice – Applying ice to the area will reduce pain and swelling. You can apply an ice pack right away to prevent or decrease any swelling that has yet to occur. Apply ice for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 3 or more times per day.
- Compression – Wrapping the injured area with am elastic bandage will also help to decrease swelling. Just be sure to not wrap it too tightly. Your doctor or podiatrist can instruct you on how long you should use a compression bandage.
- Elevation – Elevate the injured area using pillows or sit in a recliner. Try to keep the area either at or above the level of your heart. This will help to reduce swelling.
Foot conditions that cause pain and immobility can be distressing to live with. They can prevent you from taking part in your favorite activities and even affect the type of shoes that you wear. Many foot pain issues are caused by sports-related injuries but they can also be caused by other health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis or high blood pressure.
While many of these conditions can be treated at home, those that are excessively painful or serious should be treated by a medical professional such as your family doctor or a podiatrist. If you notice sudden severe pain you should make an appointment for foot pain diagnosis. If you have a serious health condition such as diabetes or poor circulation, that can diminish the feeling in your feet, it is important that you see a foot doctor on a regular basis to check for these and other foot issues.
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