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Sharp, Stabbing Foot Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated October 20, 2021

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Understand your sharp, stabbing foot pain symptoms, including 9 causes and common questions.

9 most common causes

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
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Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy
Plantar Fasciitis
Foot Sprain
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Charcot arthropathy of the foot
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Foreign body in foot
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Frostnip of the lower limbs
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Jones fracture (broken foot)

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9 causes of sharp, stabbing foot pain

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome

The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space that lies on the inside of the ankle next to the ankle bones. Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a compression, or squeezing, on an important nerve called the posterior tibial nerve. This compression produces symptoms anywhere along the path of the nerve running from the inside of the ankle into the foot.

You should visit your primary care physician who will coordinate your care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon). Tarsal tunnel syndrome is treated with pain medication, corticosteroid injections, stretching, icing, physical therapy, and also special orthotic inserts for shoes.

Posterior tibialis tendinopathy

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

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a condition where the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed. This is a common problem in runners, people who are overweight, and those who wear shoes with inadequate support. When the thick band of tissue (fascia) becomes inflamed, it can cause heel pain.

You can safely treat this condition on your own with over-the-counter pain killers (Advil, Motrin), as well as shoe inserts (orthotics) to help distribute pressure to the feet more evenly. If pain does not begin to subside, seek consultation with a physical therapist.

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.

You should visit your primary care physician or an urgent care today. Until then, the RICE method of care should be performed: rest (stay off the injured foot), ice (apply an ice pack to injured area), compression (an elastic wrap to control swelling), and elevation (raising the foot slightly above the level of the heart to reduce swelling). A doctor may perform a X-ray and put a cast or splint on the foot.

Rarity: Rare

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

Frostnip of the lower limbs

Frostnip is damage of the outermost layers of the skin caused by exposure to the cold (at or below 32F or 0C). It is most commonly found in people doing leisurely activities like camping, hunting, or snow sports.

Those with suspected frostnip should have wet clothing removed. Rubbing affected areas worsens damage to the tissue. You should go to an urgent care. If rewarming can occur without chance of refreezing, it can be tried in the field. At urgent care, the doctors will guide you in gently re-warming the wounded area in 98-102F (37C-39C) water. Further, ibuprofen, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot may be necessary

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: foot pain, swollen foot, foot numbness, foot redness, limping

Symptoms that always occur with frostnip of the lower limbs: cold toe

Urgency: In-person visit

Foreign body in foot

A foreign body in foot occurs when something like a splinter, nail, or glass becomes lodged in the skin.

You should seek prompt care at an urgent care clinic. Gently clean the area with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage. Tetanus prophylaxis may be needed.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: foot pain, foot stepping on an object

Symptoms that always occur with foreign body in foot: foot pain, foot stepping on an object

Urgency: In-person visit

Foot sprain

The bones of the ankle and foot are held together by ligaments, which are bands of tough tissue. An ankle sprain is a type of injury where one or more of the ligaments is stretched too far, causing tiny fibers in the ligaments to tear. In most cases, the ligament does not tear completely. A sprain is caused by the ligaments being stretched too far or tearing. This can happen when the foot rolls rolls, twists or turns too much.

Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.

The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.

Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.

Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.

Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Charcot arthropathy of the foot

Charcot arthropathy of the foot is a syndrome where patients with numbness of their feet, which can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions such as diabetes, develop weakening of the bones in the foot and ankle. Thus they may have fractures and dislocations of the bones and joints that occur with little trauma.

You should visit your primary care physician who will likely coordinate care with a muscle and bone specialist (orthopedic surgeon). Treatment usually involves a protective split, walking brace, or cast.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: joint pain, constant foot swelling, pain in one foot, warm red foot swelling, swelling of both feet

Symptoms that always occur with charcot arthropathy of the foot: warm red foot swelling, constant foot swelling

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions your doctor may ask about sharp, stabbing foot pain

  • Did you recently injure your foot?
  • Have you ever been told you have flat feet?
  • Do you run for exercise or sport?
  • What is your body mass?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Sharp, stabbing foot pain symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced sharp, stabbing foot pain have also experienced:

  • 5% Foot Numbness
  • 4% Swollen Foot
  • 3% Tingling Foot

People who have experienced sharp, stabbing foot pain were most often matched with:

  • 50% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
  • 33% Foot Sprain
  • 16% Plantar Fasciitis

People who have experienced sharp, stabbing foot pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 32% Over a month
  • 26% Less than a week
  • 22% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

Hear what 4 others are saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Occasional stabbing foot painPosted June 27, 2021 by A.
I constantly change position when I sit, because of my back, and that often causes me to sit in weird positions. Once, when I was sitting with my left ankle resting on my right ankle, both elevated to the level of my chest and resting on the table I was sitting by, the worst pain I have ever had stabbed into my left foot, at the top of the foot. Since then, I have tried to avoid elevating my feet in this way, and I have tried to be more aware of how I'm sitting, but every now and again, the pain comes back. The pain never lasts for more than 10–15 seconds at the most. But when it's there, it's so intense I can't think of anything else.
Too much pain!Posted April 29, 2021 by C.
Sometimes I get aching, shooting pain that starts in my feet & goes all the way up into my hips. It doesn't happen very often, but it's very painful. When that pain begins to worsen the next few minutes to 2 or 3 hours before subsiding, I cannot get any comfort. When I cannot lay down anymore, I'll sit up on my bed & slowly stand up. Every movement is unbelievably painful. Then when I take a step, I feel shaky & worrying that my legs are going to give out & I'll fall. The pain is that bad. I have to be deliberate with each step & hold onto the walls or tables, or whatever, because of the pain. I don't know what's causing it. The closest I've come to any conclusion is that it maybe could be sciatic, but from what I've discussed with my doctor about sciatica it's my understanding that sciatic pain works in the total opposite direction. I do have a sciatic nerve problem, but the pain is different. I don't experience the shooting pain as bad from the hip down like I'm experiencing from the foot up to the hip. Any clue as to what could be causing this?
Shooting pain between top of foot and shinPosted March 27, 2021 by R.
Hello there. I fell off a low scaffold at work and landed very awkwardly on my left foot. Limping for the next few days. It’s been 5 months now and whenever I go for a run and hit a small gradient I get a shooting pain between the top of my foot and shin. I know I should probably go and have it looked at, but in these times the NHS has got better things to deal with. Has anyone experienced this problem before? Many thanks in advance.

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