Understand your foot pain symptoms with Buoy, including 10 causes and common questions concerning your foot pain.
Foot pain symptoms
Our feet take a beating day in and day out, and most of the time, we don't even notice. That impressive feat is thanks to the body's natural structure and padding that cushions each step. Feet are much more complex than just five toes. A complex network of 26 bones and even more joints, ligaments, and muscles work together to allow for an impressive range of motion. Still, lots of parts means there's plenty to break down, and most of us will experience foot pain symptoms at some point.
As we get older, the padding in our feet breaks down and we become more vulnerable to injury. In some cases, there is obvious irritation on the outside of the foot, while other times, the damage is deeper within. Medical conditions like diabetes can have a particularly severe impact on the feet.
Common accompanying symptoms of foot pain
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What causes foot pain?
Most people first think of trauma as a cause of foot pain, and indeed, feet are particularly vulnerable to injury. There are many moving parts with dozens of bones and joints that form a complex arch. However, foot pain symptoms can also come from wear-and-tear or skin and nail concerns, for instance. Systemic illnesses may show up as foot pain as well.
Causes of foot pain related to trauma may include the following.
- Bone fracture: The many bones in the foot can be broken by direct force, such as in a fall or crush injury, or by stress and overuse.
- Bone dislocation: There are many joints in the foot, and trauma may force a bone out of its proper position.
- Tendon/ligament injury: Tendons and ligaments are connective tissue that maintain the structure of the foot. They can become worn out or injured by extreme movements.
- Friction: Repeated rubbing against irritating surfaces such as ill-fitting footwear may lead to painful blisters and calluses.
- Bruising: A direct blow to the foot may damage superficial nerves and blood vessels, leading to an injury that is painful to touch.
Joint issues can result in foot pain, such as the following.
- Arthritis: Inflammation in the joints is most commonly caused by wear-and-tear or overuse, but systemic conditions like gout can also be to blame.
- Misalignment: Over time, toe joints sometimes become misaligned, push painfully on surrounding structures, and make walking difficult.
Issues with nerves can result in foot pain, such as the following.
- Neuropathy: Diabetes and other conditions damage nerves across the body, but those in the feet are particularly vulnerable. Nerve damage leads to painful numbness and tingling.
- Compression: Just like carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, nerves in the ankle and foot can become compressed, leading to uncomfortable nerve pain.
Infections can result in foot pain, such as the following.
- Skin and soft tissue: Bacteria can enter through small breaks in the skin, leading to painful redness and swelling. Warts are caused by a viral infection.
- Bone and joint: More serious infections penetrate deeper and may lead to amputations if not treated effective. Those with diabetes are most at risk for this problem.
Other foot pain causes
Other causes of foot pain may include the following.
- Nail disease: Inflammation, infection, and deformed or ingrown toenails can all be extremely painful.
- Footwear: Shoes that are too loose or too tight are a prime setup for foot pain.
- Obesity: Carrying extra weight causes feet to deal with extra stress even during everyday activities.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A foot sprain is damage to ligaments within the foot. The term "sprain" refers to overstretching or tearing of ligaments — the strong, fibrous bands of tissue that hold the bones together within the joints. Foot sprains are usually sports or dance injuries. Any sort of running movement that involves sud...
Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain that occurs due to collagen degeneration and inflammation in the tendons of the foot. Plantar fasciitis can interfere with daily activities such as walking and exercise, and, symptoms can become chronic and result in pain in other body ...
Morton neuroma, also called by the older name Morton's neuroma, is a thickening of fibrous tissue in the ball of the foot. This tissue encapsulates the nerve leading to the third and fourth toes. It is not actually a tumor of the nerve, as the name suggests.
The thickening is caused by years of trauma, irritation, and/or compression to the feet. High-heeled shoes, especially if narrow or tight, are a common cause. The condition is most often seen in women over age 45.
Symptoms include burning pain in the ball of the foot, especially with walking or running. The condition will not heal on its own and can lead to chronic foot pain.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the foot with simple range of motion exercises, and sometimes x-ray.
Treatment includes changing to better-fitting shoes that do not compress the nerve; using orthotics in the shoes to take more pressure off of the nerve; and in some cases the use of corticosteroid injections.
Top Symptoms: foot numbness, pain in the sole of the foot, pain when touching the foot, pain in both feet, foot injury
Arthritis simply means inflammation of the joints. Because the feet and ankles have many small joints and carry the weight of the body, they are often the first place that arthritis appears.
Arthritis is caused by a breakdown in the protective cartilage at the end of each joint, so that the bones begin to wear against each other and the joint becomes stiff and painful. This breakdown may be due to simple wear and tear; an injury; or from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition which causes the body to break down its own cartilage.
Symptoms include swelling, warmth, and redness in the joint, and pain with movement or with pressure on the joint.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-rays, CT scan, or MRI.
There is no cure for arthritis, but treatment is important because the symptoms can be managed to prevent further damage, ease pain, and improve quality of life. Treatment involves physical therapy, pain-relieving medications, and sometimes surgery to help repair damaged joints.
Top Symptoms: swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
Posterior tibialis tendinopathy
The posterior tibialis tendon attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the underside of the foot. It provides stability and arch support. If this tendon is damaged, the result may be a flat, unstable foot.
Posterior tibialis tendinopathy is most often a sports injury, where the tendon becomes inflamed or torn through overuse or high impact.
Symptoms include pain down the ankle and into the foot, sometimes with swelling. The pain becomes worse with any activity, even standing or walking. When standing, the patient's arch will be collapsed and flat and the front of the foot will point outward. The patient will be unable to stand on the injured foot and raise the heel.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI.
Treatment involves rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, orthotics (shoe pads,) braces, and sometimes steroid injections into the damaged tendon. Surgery can be tried, but tends to be complex and cannot always restore the tendon completely.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: swollen foot, pain in one foot, limping, pain in one ankle, spontaneous ankle pain
Symptoms that never occur with posterior tibialis tendinopathy: recent cutting accident
Urgency: Primary care doctor
An ankle fracture is a break in 1 or more ankle bones.
Top Symptoms: difficulty walking, constant ankle pain, swollen ankle, pain in one ankle, ankle pain from an injury
Symptoms that always occur with broken ankle: pain in one ankle, swollen ankle, ankle pain from an injury, constant ankle pain
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Pes planus, or flat feet, are a common and usually painless condition where the arches on the inside of the feet are flattened. Usually this is due to poor arch development during childhood.
Top Symptoms: pain in the top of the foot, pain in the middle of the foot
Urgency: Wait and watch
Jones fracture (broken foot)
A Jones Fracture is a fracture of a bone on the outside of the foot (called the fifth metatarsal). A Jones fracture can be either a stress fracture (a tiny hairline break that develops with time), or a sudden break due to trauma. This can result in pain, swelling, and tenderness on the outside of the foot.
Top Symptoms: difficulty walking, constant foot pain, pain in one foot, foot bruise, foot injury
Symptoms that always occur with jones fracture (broken foot): foot pain from an injury, pain when touching the foot, constant foot pain, pain in the front half of the foot, pain in the outside of the foot
Urgency: In-person visit
Stress fracture of the foot (marching fracture)
A "March" stress fracture of the foot is named because it's sometimes linked to soldiers marching for a long time. This foot fracture happens because of prolonged stress or weight-bearing.
Top Symptoms: constant foot pain, foot pain from overuse, pain in one foot, pain when touching the foot, pain in the top of the foot
Symptoms that always occur with stress fracture of the foot (marching fracture): foot pain from overuse, constant foot pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Tarsal tunnel syndrome refers to the symptoms that result from compression of the posterior tibial nerve. The posterior tibial nerve provides sensation to the bottom of the foot and controls some of the muscles involved in foot structure and movement.
Symptoms of tarsa...
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Foot pain treatments and relief
No one should resort to ignoring their foot pain symptoms, especially if it interferes with everyday activities. There are easy steps you can take to address the problem at home, and if they don't work, a primary care doctor or podiatrist (foot specialist) may be able to help. Even those with no foot pain symptoms should get in the habit of regular foot maintenance, especially people with underlying medical conditions like diabetes.
In order to maintain your foot health, consider the following.
- Wear properly fitting shoes: Though high heels may be pretty to look at, they're not great for your feet. Your shoes should be comfortable the first time you wear them, with just enough room for the widest part of your foot and your longest toe. Shoes should not chafe, and your heel should not pop out when walking.
- Wash regularly: Wash your feet with warm (not hot) water and a mild soap. Be sure to dry thoroughly, especially between the toes. If you wish, apply lotion too.
- Trim your toenails: Be sure to cut straight across, avoiding clipping the corners to prevent ingrown nails.
At-home foot pain treatments
Treatment for foot pain can begin at home with the following methods.
- Rest: Sometimes you have to put your feet up for a bit, especially if you've recently done a lot of physical activity.
- Over-the-counter insoles: This extra padding can redirect the stress on your feet away from painful areas.
- Ice: This is an old-fashioned but still effective method of reducing foot pain and swelling in your feet.
- Over-the-counter medications: Pain relievers like NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduce the severity of foot pain symptoms.
Professional foot pain treatments
You should consult a doctor if your foot pain worsens or persists. He or she may recommend the following.
- Immobilization: A splint, cast, or boot will promote healing of injured areas and reduce foot pain while the body mends.
- Prescription medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs treat systemic conditions such as gout.
- Referral: Your doctor may recommend a specialist like a rheumatologist if an underlying medical condition is to blame for your foot pain symptoms.
- Surgery: Procedures range in complexity from corn and bunion removal to bone repair and fusion.
When foot pain symptoms are an emergency
You should seek help without delay if you have:
- A cold or pulseless foot
- Dark-colored toes or feet
- Sudden loss of sensation or movement
- Serious injury
FAQs about foot pain
Can foot pain be caused by back problems?
Yes, spine and hip problems can alter an individual's style of walking or gait and can cause foot pain. More commonly, spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, can place pressure on a nerve which may lead to foot pain, numbness, and a tingling sensation in the foot. Spinal stenosis is normally a benign condition but can become worse with time.
What foot pain does diabetes cause?
Diabetes can cause foot damage by causing a loss of the ability to sense the pressure placed on a food from standing. The inability to sense pressure placed on a foot from standing pressure leaves an individual unable to shift to avoid pressure placed on a foot and can lead to damage of the bones of the foot. This is called a Charcot joint. Additionally, elevated blood sugar (hyperglycemia) over a long period of time can cause damage to blood vessels which can decrease the ability of a an individual to heal injuries to the foot causing a "diabetic ulcer." All of these things can cause foot pain. Diabetics should get routine annual podiatry care in addition to their other providers.
Does foot pain indicate heart problems?
Foot pain can be caused as a symptom of peripheral artery disease (PAD), a disease in which the arteries of the foot are blocked and insufficient blood reaches the foot. A lack of blood flow to the foot may cause pain and then numbness and lack of function. If blood flow is not restored within an adequate amount of time the foot or some toes may need to be amputated.
What are the differences between diabetic foot pain and gout?
Gout is a disease caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals within the joint and the immune system activating as a response to the buildup of those crystals. It commonly affects the big toe, at which point it is called podagra. It can be treated with dietary changes or drugs that reduce the amount of uric acid within the blood or treat the inflammation. Diabetic foot pain is caused because of injury to the bones following loss of adequate sensation via nerve damage or loss of adequate blood flow via blood vessel damage.
Why does my foot pain get better with walking?
Plantar fasciitis may get better with walking as the plantar fascia the connective tissue just under the skin is stretched with walking and fluid that has accumulated in the plantar fascia is pushed out during the day as one walks.
Questions your doctor may ask about foot pain
- Have you ever been told you have flat feet?
- How would you explain the cause of your foot pain?
- Has a bunion formed on your foot?
- Did you recently injure your foot?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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