Recognizing and Treating Common Foot Problems

Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD on July 26, 2017Written by Natalie Silver

Why do my feet hurt?

Your feet are an integral part of your everyday life, and as such they experience a lot of wear and tear. In fact, it’s estimated that you’ll likely have walked 75,000 miles by the age of 50.

Because of all this use, chances are you’ll develop several foot problems throughout your life. Keep reading to find out how to identify and treat common foot problems.

Common foot problems

Athlete’s foot

Itchy, stinging, and burning feet and toes may be signs of athlete’s foot. This contagious condition appears after you make contact with fungus, usually in wet environments such as locker rooms, public showers, and swimming pools.

You may also experience foot blisters, crumbly toenails, and cracked, dry, and raw skin on your feet.

The condition can sometimes be difficult to treat. Start with an over-the-counter (OTC) product. You may need a doctor’s prescription to clear up severe athlete’s foot. Learn more about athlete’s foot.

Blisters

Raised pockets of fluid on your feet are known as blisters. This painful condition can be caused by walking or standing for long periods of time, wearing ill-fitting shoes, or having sweaty feet.

Generally, blisters aren’t a serious condition and can be treated at home. Try to let the blister heal naturally and give yourself relief by applying a bandage over it for comfort. Only drain the blister yourself when necessary and do it with the proper sterile equipment. If you choose to drain a blister, make sure to keep it covered with a bandage and antibiotic ointment as it heals.

Discuss persistent blisters or blisters accompanied by flu-like symptoms with your doctor. Learn more about blisters.

Bunions

A bump on the side of your big toe may be a bunion. This condition, in which your big toe bends toward your other toes, can make it painful to walk. It may cause inflammation and irritation on your big toe and second toe.

Bunions may be the result of the foot structure you inherited, and tight- or ill-fitting shoes or standing too long may aggravate them. Proper-fitting shoes and OTC pain relievers may be a simple solution to help bunions, or you may need the advice and treatment of your doctor. Learn more about bunions.

Corns

Round circles of thickened skin on your toes or the sole of your foot could be corns. Your body forms corns to prevent blistering on your feet, and they’re usually not painful right away.

Hammer toe, bunions, or poor-fitting shoes may be the cause of corns. Over time, corns may become irritated and should be treated.

OTC treatments like corn plasters may help relieve pressure on a corn and allow it to heal, or your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it. Learn more about corns.

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis can cause pain in the bottom of your heel or in the lower part of your middle foot. This happens when the plantar fascia ligament becomes strained because of soft-soled footwear with poor arch support, frequent standing, long-distance running, weight gain, or other foot conditions.

It can develop over time, and pain can range from dull to sharp. You may experience more pain when your feet have been resting for prolonged periods. Home-based treatments for the condition include applying ice, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and stretching the foot daily. Your doctor may be able to ease pain with corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, orthotics, or surgery. Learn more about plantar fasciitis.

Heel spur

Pain, inflammation, or even a bony protrusion at the front of the heel may be symptoms of a heel spur. Heel spurs occur because of a calcium deposit that grows between your heel and arch.

Heel spurs may be diagnosed through the pain you feel in your heel or as a result of another foot condition altogether, such as plantar fasciitis. It may be difficult to diagnose this condition yourself.

You should rest your feet, evaluate your footwear, and see your doctor if you experience heel pain. Heel spurs can be treated with cold compresses, medications, physical therapy, and possibly surgery. Learn more about heel spurs.

Claw toe

Claw toe is also known as claw foot. This occurs when your first toe joint points up and the second joint points down.

Claw toe can occur suddenly or may be apparent at birth. The condition may or may not cause pain and discomfort, and it can be a sign of a more serious medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or cerebral palsy.

You may never know what causes claw toe, but it’s important for your doctor to diagnose and treat the condition. Treatments include proper shoes, splints, toe exercises, medications, and surgery. Learn more about claw toe.

Mallet or hammer toe

Mallet or hammer toe results in a curved toe that points down rather than outward. Like many foot conditions, mallet toe can be the result of genetics, footwear that doesn’t fit right, or other foot problems like high arches or bunions. Arthritis or a toe injury may also be the cause of a mallet toe.

This condition may be painful when walking or stretching your foot, and you may not be able to wiggle your toe. Wearing shoes that are the right fit and using OTC foot cushions and pads may help your symptoms. Learn more about mallet toe.

Gout

Gout is a condition that often affects your feet, especially in the big toe, because of too much uric acid in your body. The affected area may feel very painful. Some describe the pain as feeling like your foot is on fire.

This condition occurs in many forms and in four stages. You may experience gout that comes and goes or develop more chronic gout over time that damages your joints.

Gout can be aggravated for many reasons, such as from eating certain foods, and occurs most commonly in men between 40 and 50 years old and in postmenopausal women.

Your doctor should treat gout and may recommend healthy lifestyle habits to manage symptoms. Learn more about gout.

Ingrown toenail

Toenails that grow into the surrounding skin are known as ingrown toenails. These can occur if you have nails that curve, poorly trimmed nails, compressed toes, or an injury to your toes. Genetics may also play a role.

Mild cases of ingrown toenails can cause discomfort and tender skin around the nail. These cases can be first treated at home with warm soaks, pain relievers, and topical antibiotics.

More severe ingrown toenails may not heal on their own or become infected and result in redness, bleeding, pus, and pain. These should be treated by a doctor who may even recommend surgery to remove the ingrown toenail. Learn more about ingrown toenails.

Fungal nail infection

Scales or streaking, crumbling, flaking, and yellow spots on your toenails may be signs that you have a fungal infection. This can occur from fungi entering your toenail because of its moist environment.

Symptoms may develop slowly. You may get the fungus because of a medical condition like diabetes, exposure to contaminated nail instruments, use of a public place like a swimming pool or locker room, or a skin injury near your toenail.

Nail infections can be very persistent and may require an antifungal medication available with a prescription. Learn more about fungal nail infections.

Plantar wart

A wart on the bottom of your foot is a common condition known as a plantar wart. This is caused by human papillomavirus and is transmitted in moist environments like locker rooms and swimming pools.

Plantar warts can be painful, especially when walking. However, they’re very treatable. Sometimes the warts go away on their own, and other times you’ll need to treat them at home with products containing salicylic acid or with the help of your doctor. In most cases, treatments require several applications over the course of many weeks. Learn more about plantar warts.

Stone bruise

A stone bruise is also known as metatarsalgia. This condition affects the ball of your foot and is caused by poor-fitting shoes, high-impact exercise, or other underlying conditions.

The area between your toes and arch may feel tingly or numb, sharply painful, or like you have a pebble in your shoe. Symptoms may get worse with time.

Resting your feet, applying ice to them, using pain relievers, and finding better-fitting shoes are common ways to treat a stone bruise. More severe symptoms should be seen by a doctor. Learn more about stone bruises.

Flat foot

Flat foot refers to the lack of arch in your foot when standing. This is generally a genetic condition that only requires treatment if it’s troublesome when exercising or standing for long periods. If the condition bothers you, see your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment may include orthotics, pain relievers, or changes in your lifestyle. Learn more about flat foot.

Morton’s neuroma

You may or may not realize you have Morton’s neuroma, as it isn’t always painful. This is a condition that thickens the tissue around a nerve in the ball of your foot, between your arch and toes.

Morton’s neuroma occurs most commonly in middle-aged women and can be caused by high heels, too-tight shoes, athletics requiring repetitive movements, or foot or gait abnormality.

Switching shoes or resting your feet may be first-line treatments for the condition. If the condition doesn’t improve, your doctor will examine the foot and create a treatment plan that may include foot pads, physical therapy, and other interventions. Learn more about Morton’s neuroma.

Sesamoiditis

Sesamoiditis is a type of bone inflammation of the foot that causes pain. The sesamoids are bones in your foot where tendons connect to help bend your big toe.

Sesamoiditis occurs when the sesamoids are injured or inflamed, often after particular activities like participating in ballet or playing catcher in baseball.

Resting your feet, using heat or ice, taking pain relievers, or trying a compression bandage may be initial treatments for this condition. You may also need other treatments as guided by your doctor. Learn more about sesamoiditis.

Diabetic neuropathy

Monitoring your feet for changes is a critical part of managing diabetes. This is because you may experience diabetic neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves because of unregulated high blood sugar.

You may experience your feet tingling like pins and needles or other symptoms like loss of feeling or sensitivity in your feet or problems walking. If you have diabetes, you should see your doctor right away if you develop these symptoms because they can lead to complications such as infection and injury, which may result in amputation.

Maintaining adequate blood sugar levels helps reduce the risk of diabetic neuropathy. Learn more about diabetic neuropathy.

When you should see a doctor

Foot conditions can vary in type, symptoms, and severity. You should see a doctor if a foot condition gets in the way of your day-to-day life or if home-based treatments don’t seem to be helping.

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