Symptoms A-Z

Foot Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your foot pain symptoms with Buoy, including 10 causes and common questions concerning your foot pain.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 10 Possible Foot Pain Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

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 [1]. 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.

Foot pain symptoms are often associated with:

Foot Pain Causes

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 [2].

Trauma:

  • 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:

  • 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 [3,4].
  • Misalignment: Over time, toe joints sometimes become misaligned, push painfully on surrounding structures, and make walking difficult.

Nerve issues:

  • 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.

Infection:

  • 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:

  • Nail disease: Inflammation, infection, and deformed or ingrown toenails can all be extremely painful [5].
  • 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.

10 Possible Foot Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced foot pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Foot sprain

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 sudden stops, starts, and twisting can lead to a foot sprain. Suddenly getting the foot caught while walking or running can wrench the ligaments and cause a sprain.

Symptoms include(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/painful-foot-swelling/), bruising, and pain in the affected foot, especially with weight-bearing. If symptoms do not resolve quickly or seem to get worse instead of better, a medical provider should be seen to make sure no fracture is involved.

The diagnosis is made through physical examination and imaging such as X-ray, CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI.

Treatment is usually conservative and involves rest to allow healing; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain; elevating the foot to improve circulation; wrapping the foot with an Ace bandage or wearing a special boot for support.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one foot, foot injury, limping, warm red foot swelling, swelling of one foot

Symptoms that always occur with foot sprain: pain in one foot, foot injury

Symptoms that never occur with foot sprain: recent cutting accident

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain that occurs due to collagen degeneration and inflammation in the tendons of the foot(https://www.buoyhealth.com/symptoms-a-z/severe-knee-pain/) and hip.

Approximately 2 million people receive treatment for this condition each year.

Many treatment options exist for plantar fasciitis, including rest, specific exercises and stretches, special shoes and orthotics, medications, and surgery.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in the sole of the foot, sharp, stabbing foot pain, pain in one foot, severe foot pain, heel pain

Symptoms that always occur with plantar fasciitis: pain in the sole of the foot, sharp, stabbing foot pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Morton neuroma

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.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: foot numbness, pain in the sole of the foot, pain when touching the foot, pain in both feet, foot injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Ankle arthritis

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.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness

Urgency: Self-treatment

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

Foot Pain Symptom Checker

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Broken ankle

An ankle fracture is a break in 1 or more ankle bones.

Rarity: Common

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

Flat feet

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.

Rarity: Uncommon

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.

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

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.

Rarity: Rare

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

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 tarsal tunnel syndrome include pain, sensory changes such as.

Treatments include pain control, the use of braces, physical therapy, the treatment of other underlying causes, and surgery.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: tingling foot, pain in one foot, spontaneous foot pain, heel pain, pain in the top of the foot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Foot maintenance:

  • 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:

  • 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: Painkillers like NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduce the severity of foot pain symptoms.

Professional foot pain treatments:

  • 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.

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

Here are some frequently asked questions 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 [6,7]. 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 [8]. 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 [9]. 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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • 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?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having foot pain

Foot Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced foot pain have also experienced:

  • 10% Lower Leg Pain
  • 9% Upper Leg Pain
  • 8% Hip Pain

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

  • 50% Foot Sprain
  • 25% Plantar Fasciitis
  • 25% Morton Neuroma

People who have experienced 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 visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Foot Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having foot pain

References

  1. Menz HB, Dufour AB, Casey VA, et al. Foot pain and mobility limitations in older adults: The framingham foot study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013;68(10):1281-5. NCBI Link.
  2. Hawke F, Burns J. Understanding the nature and mechanism of foot pain. J Foot Ankle Res. 2009;2:1. NCBI Link.
  3. Arthritis of the foot and ankle. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. AOFAS Link.
  4. Arthritis & diseases that affect the foot. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  5. Blahd WH Jr, Husney A, Romito K, eds. Nail problems and injuries. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated September 23, 2018. UofM Health Link.
  6. Walking problems. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated March 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  7. Trachtenberg GC. When lower extremity dysfunction contributes to back pain. Podiatry Today. 2012;25(12). Podiatry Today Link.
  8. Diabetes and foot problems. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published January 2017. NIDDK Link.
  9. Symptoms and diagnosis of PAD. American Heart Association. AHA Link.