Read below about foot pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your foot pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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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.

Foot pain symptoms are often associated with:

Foot Pain Causes Overview

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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Foot Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced foot pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Foot Sprain

    The bones of the ankle and foot are held together by ligaments, which are bands of tough tissue. A 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.

    An uncomplicated foot sprain should improve in 3-6 weeks.

    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
  2. 2.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.

    Pain can last weeks to months.

    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
  3. 3.Morton Neuroma

    Morton neuroma is nerve damage between the 2nd and 3rd toes, often found in women who run or wear tight high heels.

    Almost all patients do well with conservative (non-surgical) treatment

    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
  4. 4.Ankle Arthritis

    Arthritis of the ankle is a degenerative joint disorder occurring in the ankle. It presents with joint pain and stiffness that is typically worse with activity.

    Arthritis is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment. Newer, more effective treatment options have become available in recent years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy

    Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy is the dysfunction of a tendon (muscles to bones) in the back of the foot, which can lead to having flat feet. It's unclear why exactly it happens, but might be related to poor blood flow and mechanical issues specific to the person.

    Progressive and relapsing, needing several attempts to fix the problem

    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 Checker

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

    Foot Pain Quiz
  6. 6.Broken Ankle

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

    Depending on the type of fracture, recovery may take up to a year.

    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
  7. 7.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.

    Lifelong condition not requiring treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in the top of the foot, pain in the middle of the foot
    Urgency:
    Wait and watch
  8. 8.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.

    6-8 weeks healing time with cast or splint.

    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
  9. 9.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.

    6-12 weeks with treatment

    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
  10. 10.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.

    Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a long-term condition that may need to be managed for months up to 1-2 years.

    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. 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

  • Q.Have you ever been told you have flat feet?
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your foot pain?
  • Q.Has a bunion formed on your foot?
  • Q.Did you recently injure your foot?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our foot pain symptom checker to find out more.

Foot Pain Quiz

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 had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced foot pain were most often matched with:

    • 50% Foot Sprain
    • 25% Plantar Fasciitis
    • 25% Morton Neuroma
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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

Foot Pain Quiz