What Causes Lateral Foot Pain?

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on October 12, 2017Written by Tim Jewell on October 12, 2017

What is lateral foot pain?

Lateral foot pain happens on the outer edges of your feet. It can make standing, walking, or running painful. Several things can cause lateral foot pain, from exercising too much to birth defects.

Until you figure out the underlying cause, it’s best to let your foot rest to avoid any additional injuries.

Stress fracture

A stress fracture, also called a hairline fracture, happens when you get tiny cracks in your bone from overuse or repetitive motions. These are different from regular fractures, which are caused by a single injury. Intense exercise or playing sports where your foot frequently hits the ground, such as basketball or tennis, can cause stress fractures.

Pain from a stress fracture usually happens when you put pressure on your foot. To diagnose a stress fracture, your doctor will apply pressure to the outside of your foot and ask you if it hurts. They may also use imaging tests to get a better look at your foot. These tests include:

While some stress fractures require surgery, most heal on their own within six to eight weeks. During this time, you’ll need to rest your foot and avoid putting pressure on it. Your doctor may also suggest using crutches, shoe inserts, or a brace to reduce pressure on your foot.

To lower your risk of getting a stress fracture:

  • Warm up before exercising.
  • Slowly ease into new physical activities or sports.
  • Make sure your shoes aren’t too tight.
  • Make sure your shoes provide enough support, especially if you have flat feet.

Cuboid syndrome

The cuboid is a cube-shaped bone in the middle of the outer edge of your foot. It provides stability and connects your foot to your ankle. Cuboid syndrome happens when you injure or dislocate the joints or ligaments around your cuboid bone.

Cuboid syndrome cause pain, weakness, and tenderness along the edge of your foot. The pain is usually sharper when you stand on your toes or twist the arches of your feet outward. Pain may also spread to the rest of your foot when you walk or stand.

Overuse is the main cause of cuboid syndrome. This includes not giving yourself enough recovery time between exercises that involve your feet. Cuboid syndrome can also be caused by:

  • wearing tight shoes
  • spraining a nearby joint
  • being obese

Your doctor can usually diagnose cuboid syndrome by examining your foot and applying pressure to check for pain. They may also use CT scans, X-rays, and MRI scans to confirm that the injury is around your cuboid bone.

Treating cuboid syndrome usually requires six to eight weeks of rest. If the joint between your cuboid and heel bones is dislocated, you may also need physical therapy.

You can help prevent cuboid syndrome by stretching your legs and feet before exercising. Wearing custom shoe inserts may also provide additional support for your cuboid bone.

Peroneal tendonitis

Your peroneal tendons run from the back of your calf, over the outer edge of your ankle, to the bottoms of your little and big toes. Peroneal tendonitis happens when these tendons become swollen or inflamed. Overuse or ankle injuries can both cause this.

Symptoms of peroneal tendonitis include pain, weakness, swelling, and warmth just below or near your outer ankle. You may also feel a popping sensation in the area.

Treating peroneal tendonitis depends on whether the tendons are torn or simply inflamed. If the tendons are torn, you’ll likely need surgery to repair them.

Peroneal tendonitis caused by inflammation is usually treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help manage the pain.

Whether the tendons are torn or inflamed, you’ll need to rest your foot for six to eight weeks. You may also need to wear a splint or cast, especially after surgery.

Physical therapy can help increase your foot’s range of motion. Stretching can also help strengthen your peroneal muscles and tendons and prevent peroneal tendonitis. Here are four stretches to do at home.

Arthritis

Arthritis happens when the tissues in your joints are inflamed. In osteoarthritis (OA), the inflammation results from age and old injuries. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) refers to inflamed joints caused by your immune system.

There are many joints in your foot, including in the outer edges of your feet. Symptoms of arthritis in these joints include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • redness
  • stiffness
  • a popping or crackling sound

There are several treatment options for both OA and RA:

  • NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation.
  • A corticosteroid injection can help relieve swelling and pain near the affected joint.
  • Physical therapy may help if stiffness in your outer ankle makes it hard to move your foot.
  • In rare cases, you may need surgery to repair a worn-down joint.

While arthritis is sometimes unavoidable, you can reduce your risk of both OA and RA by:

  • not smoking
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • wearing supportive shoes or inserts

Twisted ankle

A twisted ankle usually refers to an inversion sprain. This type of sprain happens when your foot rolls under your ankle. This can stretch and even tear the ligaments on the outside of your ankle.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • bruising around your ankle

You can twist your ankle while playing sports, running, or walking. Some people are more likely to twist their ankle due to the structure of their feet or supination, which refers to walking on the outer edges of your feet. If you’ve severely injured your ankle in the past, you’re also more likely to twist your ankle.

This is a common injury that your doctor can usually diagnose by examining your ankle. They may also do an X-ray to make sure there aren’t any broken bones.

Most twisted ankles, including severe sprains, don’t require surgery unless the ligament is torn. You’ll need to rest your ankle for six to eight weeks to allow it to heal.

Physical therapy may also help you strengthen your ankle and avoid another injury. While waiting for the ligament to heal, you can take NSAIDs to help with the pain.

Tarsal coalition

Tarsal coalition is a condition that happens when the tarsal bones near the back of your feet aren’t connected properly. People are born with this condition, but they usually don’t have symptoms until their teenage years.

Symptoms of tarsal coalition include:

  • stiffness and pain in your feet, especially near the back and sides, that feels sharper after a lot of physical activity
  • having flat feet
  • limping after long periods of exercise

Your doctor will likely use an X-ray and CT scan to make a diagnosis. While some cases of tarsal coalition require surgical treatment, most can be easily managed with:

  • shoe inserts to support your tarsal bones
  • physical therapy to strengthen your foot
  • steroid injections or NSAIDs to relieve pain
  • temporary casts and boots to stabilize your foot

How to relieve lateral foot pain

Regardless of what’s causing the pain, there are a few things you can do to reduce pain. The most common options are part of the RICE method, which involves:

  • Resting the foot.
  • Icing the foot with covered cold packs regularly for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Compressing your foot by wearing an elastic bandage.
  • Elevating your foot above your heart to reduce swelling.

Other tips for relieving pain on the outside of your foot include:

  • wearing comfortable, supportive shoes
  • stretching your feet and legs for at least 10 minutes before exercising
  • cross-training, or switching up your exercise routine, to give your feet a break

The takeaway

Lateral foot pain is common, especially in people who regularly exercise or play sports. If you start to feel pain on the outside of your foot, try to give your feet a few days of rest. If the pain doesn’t go away, see your doctor to figure out what’s causing it and to avoid more serious injuries.

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