Foot Pain

anatomy of footFoot pain can occur to just about any part of your foot, ranging from the toes to the back of your heel, on top or bottom of one or both of your feet. Some foot pain is mild and temporary, while other foot pain is chronic and persistent throughout one’s lifetime.

Each foot comprises twenty-six bones and thirty-three joints, layered within more than 120 muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Our feet support our weight, act as a shock absorber, propel our legs forward, and help to keep our balance on uneven surfaces.

The average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. With such important and constant duties to perform, our feet are understandably susceptible to pain.

Minor foot pain can usually be taken care of at home, while severe pain should receive medical attention. If you leave foot pain untreated, it can lead to long-term disabilities or damage. Identifying the underlying problem that is causing the foot pain is key to treating and avoiding future pain or discomfort. There are four grades of foot pain:

  • During activity
  • Before and after, not affecting the performance
  • Before, during and after activity, affecting the performance
  • Pain that prevents performance

Foot Pain Symptoms

Other than the initial pain in the foot, there are additional symptoms that may accompany the foot pain, including:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness when the foot is touched
  • Increased pain when mobile and decrease in pain when resting
  • Pain when the foot is moved
  • Loss of function
  • Weakness in the foot
  • Numbness in the foot
  • Change in the way you walk to avoid pain
  • Change in skin or nail color
  • You feel ill or are running a fever
  • Stiffness in foot

What Causes Foot Pain?

There are various different causes for foot pain. Here is a look at some of the more common causes:

  • Poorly fitting shoes
  • Injury
  • Overuse of feet
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Bone spurs
  • Broken toe, ankle or foot
  • Bunions
  • Bursitis
  • Corns or calluses, or both
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Flat feet
  • Gout
  • Hammertoe and/or mallet toe
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Metatarsalgia
  • Morton’s neuroma
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Plantar warts
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Poor posture
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stress fractures
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Although all of these causes are common, the most common causes of foot pain are the three at the top of the list. Poorly fitting shoes, whether too loose, too small, or too big, can cause pain in various places throughout the foot, ankle, leg, or even the lower back. Injuring your foot can also cause enormous pain, depending on the severity of the damage. Excessive walking, running, jogging, climbing, or other activities that require you to stand or move around can lead to painful feet. Certain medical conditions such as diabetes or arthritis can also cause foot pain, as blood circulation slows in the lower regions of the body.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Foot pain can be brought on by a number of causes, injuries, underlying conditions, or disorders. Because of the many different kinds of problems that can cause pain in your feet, it can sometimes be difficult to decide when it is best to seek medical attention. Here are some indicators that may suggest you should see your doctor:

  • Pain is interfering with normal daily activities
  • You cannot perform desired activities without pain
  • Pain worsens when mobile
  • Your foot is beginning to look deformed or misshapen
  • You have a loss of function
  • Changes in sensation occur- for example, you cannot feel heat from concrete on a hot day
  • Severe swelling
  • Changes in your skin color or nail color
  • Heat in the painful area of the foot
  • Your foot is tender to the touch
  • If you are forcing yourself to walk or run a different way to avoid pain

Your doctor will diagnose your foot pain based on your activities, your medical history, the intensity of pain and obvious signs and symptoms. X-rays and other imaging tests (CT scans, MRIs) may be ordered if there are not obvious signs of an underlying cause, or if you are unable to put weight on your foot. Physical examinations may also reveal where the problem is located in the foot.

Treatment Options for Foot Pain

There are numerous things you can do to control or treat your foot pain. The first step is seeing a foot specialist, a podiatrist, or a foot and ankle surgeon. You can sometimes help yourself by using the acronym RICE to relieve foot pain. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Icing should be done by applying ice to the injury for ten to twenty minutes and then removing the ice for twenty minutes, repeating the process for as long as your doctor recommends—which could be hours, the first day, or for the first couple of days. The RICE method is one way to treat an injury to the foot. Other treatment options may include:

  • Shoe inserts
  • Medications
  • Stretching the foot muscles
  • Switching foot wear
  • Limiting activities
  • Surgery (for severe cases that are caused by additional conditions such as ingrown toenails)

Treatment will be based on what is causing the foot pain, the severity of the pain, and the underlying cause. Your foot pain may ease while you are at the doctor’s office, or you may experience pain throughout your recovery process. Recovery times depend on the cause of the pain. For example, if you have a stress fracture and need to use crutches, you may have pain for up to six weeks or longer. If you are experiencing pain due to an infection, you may have pain until the infection is cured.