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Common Sources of Foot Pain

Are you experiencing foot pain in anywhere in your feet-- whether the heel, toes, arch, instep, ankle or sole? Here are some basic facts that can help you to understand the possible causes, identify the symptoms, and find the best treatments for your foot pain.

What Causes Foot Pain?

There are many answers to this question. The basic conditions of aging and being overweight increase your chances of foot pain. Other common causes are:

  • poorly fitting shoes
  • bunions
  • hammer toes
  • calluses and corns (your skin thickens with friction and pressure. Calluses are on the balls of your feet, corns are on the toes.)
  • fallen arches (flat feet)
  • planter warts (from pressure on the soles of your feet)
  • broken bones
  • stress fracture
  • arthritis
  • gout (most common in the big toe - it becomes red, swollen, and tender)
  • bone spur (heel)
  • bursitis of the heel
  • tendonitis

Ways to prevent foot pain are:

  • Wear comfortably fitting shoes, with a good arch support and cushioning.
  • Shoes should have adequate room around the ball of your foot and toe.
  • Tennis shoes should be worn as often as possible, especially when walking.
  • Do not frequently wear narrow-toed shoes or high heels.
  • Rotate and replace running shoes frequently.
  • If you are trying a new exercise plan, introduce it slowly and gradually to avoid excessive strain on your feet.
  • Lose weight if you need to in order to stay in the healthy range for your height.
  • Learn exercises that strengthen your feet. Great for flat feet and other problems.
  • Keep your feet dry to avoid friction.
  • Avoid alcohol as it can bring about attacks of gout!

Treatments for foot pain include:

  • Use ice to reduce pain and swelling. Especially right after an activity that aggravated your pain.
  • Elevate your hurting foot as much as possible.
  • Wear foot pads in areas of friction and pressure.
  • Over the counter meds, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help. Try them for 2 to 3 weeks and see if your foot pain subsides.
  • For planter warts, you can find many over the counter removal medications.
  • Soak calluses in warm water and then rub them with pumice stone.
  • Never cut or burn corns or calluses!
  • Crutches may be necessary to rest a stress fracture for a week or so.
  • Shoe inserts are the best answer for planter fascilitis.

Heel Pain

A general term for several ailments that affect the feet, heel pain is one of the most troublesome problems a person can have. A complaint of heel pain often ends up being a heel spur of plantar fascilitis. If you are experiencing any sort of heel pain, see a health care provider to ask about appropriate treatments, because problems with the feet affect your whole daily routine and lifestyle. Left untreated, conditions that cause heel pain will only worsen.

Most people experience the worst heel pain right after getting out of bed in the morning. Right after this long period of rest, when sudden weight is put on the area, severe heel pain usually ensues. Most often heel pain subsides throughout the day as nerves and tissues adjust to the inflammation.

Factors associated with heel pain are:

  • Sports activities and improper training (repetition causes heel pain).
  • Sudden weight increases (such as pregnancy)
  • A quick and sudden change in the amount of time you spend on your feet.
  • Traveling up steep hills, both running and walking
  • Worn out shoes
  • Shoes without a cushioned sole or adequate arch support
  • An abrupt change in the intensity and/or duration of athletic activities

Usually there is something amiss with the plantar fascia ligament when you experience heel pain. When this ligament is strained and pulled from where it attaches to the heel bone, the tissue becomes torn. Unsupportive shoes are often the cause of stressing the plantar fascia ligament, which runs the length of the bottom of your foot. When you feel pain anywhere in your body, it is an indication that something is wrong. And heel pain is no exception, so see a doctor if it persists. You can still depend on the simplest treatments if you evaluate the situation early enough. Such treatments for heel pain include:

  • Stretching the calf
  • Massaging
  • Decreasing physical activities to give the heel ligament a rest
  • Losing weight
  • Finding better fitting shoes (raised heel and arch support)
  • Icing helps reduce heel pain and swelling
  • Ibuprofen
  • Heel cup or bad (helps eliminate the condition and regain your mobility)

Hammer Toe

Usually hammer toe occurs in the second toe, but all of them can be affected. This condition is described well by its name; the toe is bent at the middle joint, resembling a hammer. In the beginning the deformity will be flexible, but if it persists without being treated, eventually it will become fixed and you will need surgery.

Calluses may develop on the top of your hammer toe joint, or on the tip. It will become hard to find comfortably fitting shoes.

Common hammer toe causes:

  • Shoes that don't fit properly (narrow toes, high heels)
  • Muscle imbalance
  • High foot arch
  • Genetics
  • Nerve disorder

Treatment of hammer toe:

  • Don't wear high heels or shoes with a narrow forefoot! Having your weight push your toes forward even further, bunching up at the end, is often what causes this condition, and will not help at all to heal it.
  • Wear more comfortable shoes. Make sure the toe area is high (not lower than the heel) and broad. If it has enough room for your hammer toe to fit comfortably without pressure, then the shoe is a good fit! Shoes should be one-half inch longer than your longest toe.
  • You can also procure hammer toe splints and hammer toe crests to help relieve this condition.
  • Gel toe shields and toe caps help eliminate friction between the shoe and toe, which provides comfort and lubrication.
  • Exercises! Stretch your toes manually back into the normal joint position. Pick things up with your toes. While reading or watching TV, lay a towel out flat on the ground, and use your toes to crumple it.
  • Doctors may recommend commercially marketed straps, cushions or nonmedicated corn pads.
  • Always talk to your doctor before attempting to self treat if you have diabetes, lack of feeling in your feet or poor circulation.
  • Surgery may be necessary if the above conservative measures don't succeed.

Heel Spurs

This is a common ailment that causes severe foot pain. Heel spurs are the result of a certain ligament, the plantar fascia, pulling away from the heel. The plantar fascia is the ligament that runs the length of the bottom of your foot. A hook of bone made of calcium deposits develops on the heel bone when this ligament stretches away from the heel.

Intense pain occurs in the rear of your foot, especially while standing or walking. Usually, heel spurs occur because of flat feet or unusually high arches.

Heel spurs are easily treated, but they vary depending on what exactly is the cause. If the plantar fascia ligament has stretched due to flat feet, then doctors usually recommend an orthotic with rearfoot posting and longitudinal arch support. This will help to reduce the over-pronation that flat feet cause.

Other treatments for heel spurs are:

  • stretching exercises
  • rest
  • elevating the heel with a heel cradle, heel cup or orthotic
  • losing weight
  • putting ice packs onto the affected area
  • shoes with cushioned heels to absorb shock
  • anti-inflammatory medicine

Keep in mind that heel spurs generally develop gradually. You will experience pain in your heel especially after taking the first steps out of bed in the morning or after a long rest. The situation will continue to worsen if you don't completely rest the plantar fascia ligament! Aggravating factors such as walking, standing, running and jumping contribute to the pain and inflammation that heel spurs cause. And healing can only occur if you give the ligament a rest from these repetitive stresses.


If your big toe has gradually begun to point toward your second toe, forming a bump on the outside edge of your foot, you are probably experiencing a bunion.

Also known as Hallux valgus, a bunion develops as the foot bone connected to your big toe begins to pull towards the center of the body. The bony prominence on the side of your toe's joint is a visual indication of a bunion, while physically you will know because of the discomfort and pain that is involved with the process.

The common symptoms of a bunion include:

  • Swelling and/or around the big toe joint
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain along the inside margin of the foot
  • Feet become too wide to fit into their normal shoes
  • Pain when wearing tight shoes

More women than men develop a bunion later in life, because they are more likely to wear tightly fitting shoes. Poorly fitting shoes are the most common cause of a bunion, and the risk of developing one increases with family history.

Other possible causes for a bunion are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Weak ligaments in the feet
  • Trauma or injury to the feet

Ibuprofen will temporarily relieve the pain and inflammation of a bunion. But changing your footwear is a more permanent solution. That as well as wearing commercial bunion pads or night splints can reduce and heal the bunion.

If the problem has existed for some time, the doctor may have you go through surgery to alleviate the bunion. This is rare, but it may be the best solution!

Stress Fractures

When your foot muscles become fatigued and overused, an injury called a stress fracture may result. The muscles become so strained that they can no longer absorb repeated shock and impact. Eventually this stress is transferred from the muscle to the bone, resulting in a small crack, or stress fracture.

The common causes of a stress fracture are:

  • sudden increase in the amount and/or intensity of an activity
  • using equipment improperly
  • high impact sports such as running, track, gymnastics and basketball
  • bone mass decreases caused by eating disorders, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis (all of which are suffered more by women than men)

When you feel the pain of what may be a stress fracture, see a health physician immediately for evaluation. Because if you do not stop the impact and strain on the bone, an even more serious stress fracture will develop.

The best treatment for stress fractures is REST! This is the most important aspect of healing a stress fracture. You need to take a break from the activity that caused the stress fracture. This can be hard, especially since most of these injuries are caused by sports, and most athletes are unwilling to take a break in their activities. But for 6 to 8 weeks, in order for a stress fracture to completely heal, you need to engage in a different activity that doesn't pressure or give pain to your foot.

The best ways to prevent a stress fracture from happening are to:

  • Slowly increase any new sports or physical activity into your daily routine (gradually build up running mileage, hours biking, etc)
  • Keep up a healthy diet. Especially for women, calcium rich foods are very important for maintaining healthy bones.
  • Make sure the equipment you are using is safe and in the proper condition. Don't run in old, worn out shoes.
  • Stop the activity for a few days immediately if any pain or swelling occurs.
  • Make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon if the pain continues
  • Consult a physcician if treatment doesn't start to work in 1 or 2 weeks. The injury may be more serious than a stress fracture.

Claw Toe

A claw toe, also known as claw foot, is not necessarily the symptom of tight or high heeled shoes. Many people assume that they are wearing shoes that have been squeezing their toes for too long, thus developing the claw toe condition. But there is usually a deeper, underlying nerve damage which manifests itself in the claw toe.

If any of your toes have begun to dig down into the soles of your shoes, creating painful calluses, the first thing to do is see a health care provider. A claw toe deformity is where one toe joint bends upward, and the other downward, creating a curled claw. This can be a congenital condition, which a child is born with, or an acquired problem that develops as a consequence of other disorders.

Whether a claw toe develops in childhood or later life, it should always be taken seriously just in case. A claw toe in itself is not dangerous, but often it indicates a more serious disease of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

As soon as you notice any of the claw toe symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible. You will go through an evaluation for certain neurological disorders that may have weakened your foot muscles. This weakness as well as trauma and inflammation are possible causes for the imbalance in your toes.

Treatment for claw toe usually includes stretching and using your hands to stretch your toe joints into their normal positions. This will be easy in the early stages, while the claw toe is still flexible. Later on, claw toe will fix itself into position. Surgery may become necessary at this point. Otherwise, special shoes can be made to accommodate the deformity.

Mallet Toe

Mallet toe occurs when the joint at the end of the toe cannot straighten. This condition causes pressure and discomfort because the toe is angled down against the shoe. And the bend in a mallet toe also makes it rub against the top of your shoe, leading to pain and corns.

Wearing restrictive and poorly fitting footwear aggravates mallet toe, making it even worse. Common reasons for developing a mallet toe are as follows:

  • Arthritis
  • Bone or muscle imbalance
  • Active lifestyles
  • Improperly fitting shoes

Any discomfort or pain in your feet should be evaluated by a health physician. Forefoot problems only worsen and inhibit your lifestyle and activity level if they are left untreated. Without the proper attention, mallet toe can cause tissue to breakdown or even infection. The goal for treating mallet toe is to reduce friction and relieve pressure.

Doctors usually recommend:

  • wearing shoes with a high and broad toe area (high heels are not a good idea!)
  • gel toe shields
  • gel toe caps
  • toe crest

Mallet toe may result from muscle and nerve damage, so make sure to visit a doctor once you notice the symptoms. Any curled or crooked toes will cause pain when wearing crowded shoes, so you will notice the beginning of mallet toe.