What causes foot pain? 16 possible conditions
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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.
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:
- peripheral neuropathy (commonly caused by diabetes)
- 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
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
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
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.
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).
- Arthritis. (2012). American Podiatric Medical Association.Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=977 http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=977
- Foot Health Information. (2012). American Podiatric Medical Association. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealthList.cfm?navItemNumber=498 http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealthList.cfm?navItemNumber=498
- Foot Pain. (2011). National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health.Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003183.htm
- Foot Pain. (2011). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/foot_pain_000061.htm
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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