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Foot Pain

foot pain causes

Foot pain is a generalized term referring to pain that may occur in the toes, heels, top of the foot, bottom of the foot, or any combination thereof. Pain may occur in one or both feet and levels of discomfort can range from mild to severe. Foot pain can be temporary, as in the case of sudden injuries, or it can be chronic, as in the case of arthritis.

Foot pain is one of them most common medical complaints, which is perhaps to be expected given the complexity of the appendage and the vital role it plays in physical mobility. Each foot is made up of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, and more than one hundred and twenty muscles, nerves, and ligaments. This complex network of tissues must support our body weight, absorb the shock of impact when we are in motion, and help keep us upright and balanced even on shifting and/or uneven surfaces. Podiatrists have estimated that the average human takes between eight thousand and ten thousand steps every day. It is little wonder then that our feet are vulnerable to injury and pain.

The implications of foot pain go beyond issues of discomfort or inconvenience: the results of an recent survey indicate estimated 72% of people asked reportedly do not exercise because of pain in their feet. This is not a minor matter as the Center for Disease Control has expressed concern over soaring obesity in both children and adults. Addressing issues related to foot pain will, in some cases, clearly address issues of obesity as well as declining physical fitness levels. Podiatric care has become a crucial factor in improving obesity rates.

While patients may be instructed to treat minor issues within the home, severe pain, injury, or complex problems require professional care. When foot pain is left untreated it can cause a host of secondary problems throughout the body and may contribute to other injuries or disabilities. It is crucial to identify the underlying problem causing the discomfort in order to provide the appropriate treatment.

Foot pain can be separated into four initial categories for identification and diagnostic purposes:

• Pain that occurs during physical activity.
• Pain that occurs before and after physical activity but does not affect performance.
• Continuous pain before, during and following physical activity that also affects performance.
• Serious pain that prevents performance.

Foot Pain: Symptoms

Aside from localized foot pain or pain resulting from injury, additional symptoms may be present, including:

• Tenderness of the foot when pressure is applied (touching the foot for example)
• An increase in pain levels during weight bearing activities and decrease in pain levels when resting
• Presence of pain when the foot is moved
• Bruising
• Swelling
• Reduced or lost functioning of the foot
• Weakening of the foot
• Numbness in the foot
• Altered gait cycle to reduce or avoid foot pain
• Altered coloration of skin or nails on affected foot
• Onset of illness
• Fever
• Onset of stiffness in the affected foot

Foot Pain: Causes

Foot pain is an exceedingly common complaint that has several causes, such as:
• Ill-fitting footwear (too short, tight, worn down, etc.)
• Injury to foot or toes
• Fatigue of the feet due to overuse (e.g. standing or walking for extended periods of time without a break)
• Poor posture
Achilles tendonitis
Bone spurs
• Broken bones in the toe, ankle or foot
• Fractured bones in the toe, ankle, or foot
• Injuries to other parts of the body that affect posture and/or gait cycle
• Bursitis
• Nerve damage
Flat feet
• Gout
Hammertoe and/or mallet toe
Ingrown toenails
Morton’s neuroma
• Osteoarthritis
Plantar warts
Plantar fasciitis
• Rheumatoid arthritis
Tarsal tunnel syndrome

While the above list addresses the most common underlying issues of foot pain the first three tend to be the most frequent cause. Poor choice in footwear is one of the primary factors of foot pain, as ill fitting shoes tend to create problems from the ground up. If shoes are not fitted correctly problems can affect not only the feet but may cause pain in the ankle, leg, and back of the wearer. Other parts of the body will almost certainly be negatively affected as the body tries to compensate for the injury, such as when the normal gait cycle is disrupted to avoid pain, for example. Excessive physical activities such as walking, standing, jogging or climbing can cause pain as the feet are required to support the entire weight of the body for long periods of time. While these conditions are the most common catalysts for foot pain medical conditions such as diabetes or arthritis are also very common, and may worsen any discomfort felt from the causes mentioned above.

When to Consult a Professional

Because foot pain can have so many underlying causes it is sometimes necessary to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis. Even when the underlying cause is clear, such as injury, it may be necessary to consult with a doctor or podiatrist to ensure proper care and healing. If the following symptoms are present it is best to seek medical advice as soon as possible:

• Pain is chronic and/or severe enough to interfere with normal daily activities
• Pain symptoms increase with even basic physical activity
• The affected foot is becoming deformed or misshapen
• You are experiencing a severe reduction or loss of function in the foot
• Reduction in sensory input e.g. you do not feel the heat from a radiator or other type of active heat source
• Swelling that is severe
• Bruising of the skin or nail; changes in skin color
• Sensation of heat radiating from the affected area of the foot
• The foot becomes tender to the touch
• Modified gait when walking or running in order to avoid or reduce pain symptoms.

Your doctor will evaluate your pain symptoms, general symptoms, level and type of physical activities, medical history, and probable or evident causes for the development of the pain when making a diagnosis. Aside from a physical examination of the affected foot it may be necessary to undergo x-ray, CT, or MRI scans in order to confirm or investigate the underlying issues causing pain.

Foot Pain: Treatment

There are several options when it comes to the treatment of foot pain, beginning with an appointment with a foot specialist, podiatrist, doctor, or foot surgeon. When dealing with injury the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is a practical and effective way to relieve pain symptoms and prevent further injury from occurring. Care should be taken when icing the foot so tissue damage does not occur; icing should never be undertaken for longer than twenty minutes at a time. Your health care provider may recommend intermittent icing throughout the healing process.

Aside from the RICE method there are several other non-invasive treatments that may be advised, including the following:

• The use of orthotic devices to support and stabilize areas of the foot
• Over the counter NSAIDS to reduce pain and inflammation
• Gentle stretching of the foot and lower leg muscles
• Improving the quality and/or fit of all footwear
• Limiting and/or reducing physical activities
• Improved foot care (trimming, cleaning, prevention of ingrown nails)
• Surgery is not usually at the forefront of treatment of foot pain and is generally viewed as a last resort for stubborn or very serious cases with complex underlying problems.

The treatment method your provider chooses for you will be based on the underlying causes of the pain and the severity of the symptoms. Some patients experience relief of symptoms immediately after treatment while others are uncomfortable during the entire recovery process. Recovery times are dependent on the cause and severity of the pain. Stress fractures make take several weeks to heal and/or require the use of crutches whereas an infection of the foot may show signs of improvement after one week. Individual medical histories and pain tolerance levels also affect the course of recovery.

Foot Pain: Prevention

Aside from treating foot pain after it has developed it is often possible to prevent it from occurring in the first place. General foot care, such as using Dr. Foot Pro Insoles for example, are an easy to increase cushioning and support in everyday footwear. These inserts are available in a wide variety of sizes, models, and colors and are suitable for a wide range of people. Aside from using high quality inserts there are several things that can be done to reduce the risk of foot pain:

• Be sure to buy the proper size of shoe when investing in footwear.
• Choose a style of shoe that is suited for your foot. For example, if you have wide feet avoid narrow shoes.
• Choose appropriated shoes and socks for each activity you are involved in.
• Seek treatment for underlying conditions such as gout, diabetes, or arthritis.
• Warm up thoroughly before engaging in physical activities.
• Increase the intensity and duration of physical activities gradually to avoid injuries or fatigue.
• Pay attention to your body, feet included, and have your injuries and other issue evaluated by a medical professional.
• Stop all physical activity and seek treatment when pain symptoms are present.

What to Ask Your Doctor

Your doctor can assist you not only in treating foot pain but in providing you information to help you cope with the healing process and help prevent further pain. Here are a few questions that your doctor will be able to answer:

• What type of warm-up exercises will most reduce the risk of re-injury or pain?
• Should I be cool down after physical activity?
• What kind of stretches are best performed for my condition?
• How likely is it that foot pain will prevent participation in routine activities?
• My job requires me to stand for several hours at a time; which type of orthotics would most benefit me?
• What about diet? Should I be modifying my eating habits to improve foot and/or overall health?
• Is there an underlying condition I am not aware of that could be contributing to my foot pain?
• Am I likely to experience pain throughout my recovery process?


Your doctor is there to treat your discomfort and remedy any immediate injury and/or underlying conditions. If you experience continuous foot pain you may wish to follow up with a foot doctor or podiatrist to ensure maximum foot health and comfort.

For further tips and advice visit a podiatrist at




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