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What causes foot pain? 17 possible conditions

What Is Foot Pain?

Our feet are critical elements of our bodies. They bear our weight when we are standing and help us to get where we need to go. Because of this, they’re frequently in pain. Foot pain refers to any pain or discomfort in the toes, heels, arches, soles, or other parts of the foot.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, about 75 percent of Americans will experience foot pain at some point in their lives (UMMC, 2009). The pain can range from mild to severe, and it may last a short time or be an ongoing issue. Fortunately, many measures can help relieve foot pain.

What Causes Foot Pain?

Lifestyle Choices

One of the main causes of foot pain is wearing shoes that do not fit properly. High-heeled shoes can often cause foot pain, as they place a great deal of pressure on the toes.

You can also develop foot pain if you are injured during high-impact exercise or sport activities, such as jogging or intense aerobics.

Common Medical Issues

Various medical issues are closely associated with foot pain.

Your feet are especially susceptible to the pain caused by arthritis. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are 33 joints in the foot that can be affected by this condition (APMA, 2012).

Diabetes can also cause complications and several disorders of the feet. People with diabetes are more prone to:

  • foot ulcers or sores
  • nerve damage in the feet
  • clogged or hardened arteries in the legs and feet

You are also more at risk for experiencing foot pain if you are overweight or obese, pregnant, or have a foot injury—such as a sprain, fracture, or tendinitis.

Other potential causes of foot pain include:

  • corns
  • peripheral neuropathy (commonly caused by diabetes)
  • calluses
  • bunions
  • warts
  • ingrown toenails
  • medications that cause swelling in the feet
  • neuroma (growth or tumor of nerve tissue)
  • hammer toe
  • athlete’s foot
  • Haglund’s deformity
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • fallen arches
  • plantar fasciitis

How to Ease Foot Pain at Home

Your at-home treatment options will vary depending on the pain you are experiencing and its cause. However, there are a few general tips that can help relieve your discomfort. These include:

  • applying ice to the affected area
  • taking an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • using foot pads to prevent rubbing on the affected area
  • keeping the foot that is causing you pain elevated
  • resting your foot as much as possible

When to See Your Doctor

Many people who regularly experience foot pain are aware of what triggers it and they know how best to manage their pain. However, there are some situations when you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Seek medical help if:

  • the pain came on suddenly and is severe
  • your foot pain is due to a recent injury
  • you cannot place any weight on your foot after an injury
  • you have foot pain and also have a medical condition that interferes with blood flow
  • the area causing you pain has an open wound
  • the area causing you pain is red and/or inflamed
  • you also have a fever

What Will Happen at the Appointment?

During your appointment, the doctor will probably observe your posture and how you walk. He or she may also do a physical examination of your back, legs, and feet.

The doctor will also want to know the details of your foot pain, such as when it started, what parts of the feet are affected, and how severe it is. If necessary, your doctor will order an X-ray.

Treatment for your condition depends on the cause. For some people, something as simple as shoe inserts can provide a great deal of relief. Others may require a cast, wart removal, surgery, or physical therapy.

How to Prevent Chronic Foot Pain

You can take many measures to help prevent ongoing foot pain. For example:

  • choose comfortable, roomy, and well-cushioned shoes
  • avoid shoes with large heels and narrow toe areas
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • stretch before engaging in vigorous exercise
  • practice good foot hygiene
  • always wear some type of footwear when outdoors to protect your feet

Keep in mind that although foot pain is common, it is not a normal part of life. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you should seek medical help if you have foot pain that has not resolved after a week or two of at-home treatment (NIH, 2012).

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common orthopedic complaints. Plantar fascia ligaments experience much wear and tear in daily life. Normally, these ligaments support the foot arch, connecting the heel to the fron...

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Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most don't require medical attention.

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Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails occur when the edges or corners of the nail grow into the skin next to it, causing tenderness, redness, and even bleeding.

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Arthritis is inflammation of the joints (where bones meet) in one or more areas of the body. This condition is most commonly seen in adults, but it can also develop in children and teens.

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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

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Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. Tendinitis occurs when tendons become irritated or inflamed. This condition causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A fracture is a broken bone that typically occurs when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. In an open fracture, the ends of the broken bone tear the skin.

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The sciatic nerve begins at the spinal cord, stretching through the hips and buttocks, and down each leg. When this nerve is irritated, you will experience sciatica, a painful, weak, or numb sensation in these areas.

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Standing Your Ground with Flat Feet (Pes Planus)

Pes planus, or fallen arches, are feet that don't have a normal arch, which can be painful. This is normal in infants and usually disappears by age three, as ligaments and tendons in the foot and leg tighten.

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A bunion appears as a bump on your big toe. This bump is actually an abnormality of the foot bones. Your big toe leans instead of being straight.

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Gout Overview

Gout is a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood. When the concentration of uric acid gets too high, sharp urate crystals form and collect in the joints, causing swelling and intense pain.

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Hammer Toe

A hammer toe is a deformity that causes your toe to bend or curl downward instead of pointing forward. This deformity can affect any toe on your foot.

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Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that help reduce friction where tendons, skin, and muscle tissues meet bones. Inflammation can cause discomfort and limit range of motion.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

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Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic arthritis that affects children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild.

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Toxic Synovitis

Toxic synovitis is a temporary condition that causes hip pain in children. It's also known as transient synovitis.

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Buerger’s Disease

Buerger's disease, also called thromboangiitis obliterans, causes blockages in the blood vessels of the feet and hands. This can cause pain, tissue damage, and even tissue death.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.