Walking gets us where we need to go and is one of the easiest ways to stay in shape. Because we use our feet so much, occasional aches and pains are common, especially after walking for long periods.
Overuse is a common cause of foot pain, but an underlying injury or medical condition can also cause your feet to hurt when you walk.
Read on to learn why your feet might hurt when you walk and what you can do about it.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the thick band of tissue that runs lengthwise across the bottoms of your feet.
It usually causes a stabbing heel pain that you feel when you take your first steps in the morning. You might also feel it when you stand up from sitting or after long periods of standing.
The pain tends to lessen as you move more but gets worse after exercising.
Icing and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil), are usually the only treatment you need. Orthotics, splints worn during sleep, and physical therapy are other treatment options.
Calluses are thick layers of skin that form on parts of the body exposed to frequent friction, especially the bottoms of your feet.
They look like patches of thick, yellowy skin and may be flaky or hard. They can cause pain with walking if they’re very thick.
You may be able to remove hard skin yourself by soaking your feet in warm water to soften the skin and using a pumice stone or an emery board.
You can try to prevent calluses from building back up by wearing shoes that give your feet enough room.
Metatarsalgia is a painful inflammation of the ball of your foot.
The condition can be caused by participating in activities that involve running and jumping. Wearing shoes that don’t fit well or having a foot deformity can also cause it.
- burning, aching, or sharp pain
- pain that worsens when walking, standing, or flexing your foot
- the feeling of having a pebble in your shoe
At-home treatments, such as icing and resting your feet, can relieve symptoms. Wearing insoles or arch supports can help prevent your symptoms from coming back.
Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the tissue that surrounds a nerve in the ball of the foot leading to your toes. It usually develops between the third and fourth toes because of nerve irritation, pressure, or trauma.
The most common symptom is the feeling that you are stepping on a marble. Other symptoms include:
- pain in the ball of your foot that may radiate to the toes
- pain that worsens with walking or wearing shoes
- tingling and numbness in the toes
Conservative treatment, such as wearing comfortable shoes and orthotics and taking OTC pain relievers, can usually resolve symptoms. For more severe cases, corticosteroid injections may provide relief.
Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon. Tendons are the thick, fibrous cords that attach muscles to bones.
Symptoms depend on which tendon is affected. The most common symptoms are pain and stiffness that worsen gradually with continued movement.
Types of tendinitis that can affect your feet include:
- Achilles tendinitis, which causes pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon and pain at the back of your heel
- extensor tendinitis, which causes pain in the middle portion of the top of your foot
- peroneal tendinitis, which causes pain around the back and outside of your foot
Rest, icing, and OTC pain medication may be all you need to treat tendinitis. Depending on the cause and severity of your tendinitis, your doctor may also recommend physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, or surgery, in rare cases.
Turf toe is a sprain in the main joint of your big toe. It’s usually caused by bending the toe too far upward. Big-toe sprains are common in athletes who play sports on artificial turf — that’s where the condition’s name comes from.
The most common symptoms are pain, swelling, and trouble moving the joint. Symptoms can develop slowly and worsen over time due to repetitive motion or begin suddenly after a direct injury.
You can usually treat milder cases of turf toe with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).
Tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS) occurs when the posterior tibial nerve is compressed inside the tarsal tunnel, a narrow passageway in your ankle surrounded by bones and their connecting ligament.
The compression causes pain, burning, tingling, and numbness along the nerve, which runs from your ankle up through your calf. The pain often worsens with activity but can also occur at rest.
At-home treatment can include OTC pain relievers and wearing a brace or splint. Your healthcare provider may recommend corticosteroid injections or surgery if conservative treatment doesn’t relieve your symptoms.
Flat feet is a common condition in which your feet press flat on the ground when standing.
It usually occurs at birth and can progress into childhood if the arches don’t develop fully. It can also occur after an injury or with gradual wear and tear as you age.
Diabetes mellitus and rheumatoid arthritis can also increase a person’s risk of flat feet.
Some people with flat feet experience foot pain, usually in the heel or arch. The pain can worsen with activity and may be accompanied by pain or swelling along the inside of the ankle.
If you’re having pain, your healthcare provider may recommend arch supports, supportive shoes, and stretching exercises.
Different types of arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in the joints, muscles, and bones in the feet.
- osteoarthritis (OA), which most often affects the big toe but can also affect the midfoot
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which often affects several joints in both feet and causes toe stiffening to abnormal bends, such as hammer toe or claw toe
- gout, which typically begins with severe pain and swelling in the big toe after an injury
Treatment depends on the type of arthritis and may include oral and topical anti-inflammatories, gout medication, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Surgery is sometimes used to repair fractures and deformities.
Cuboid syndrome typically occurs when the joints and ligaments near the cuboid bone in your foot are injured or torn. It can also happen when one of the bones partially moves out of its original position.
Pain on the outside of your foot on the side of your smallest toe is the most common symptom. Placing weight on the foot can make the pain worse. Standing on your toes can cause the pain to spread to other parts of your foot.
You may also notice:
- swelling near your ankle or dislocated ligaments
- weakness in your toes on the lateral side of your foot
- loss of mobility on the outside of your foot or ankle
Cuboid syndrome symptoms usually respond well to treatment with the RICE method.
Foot pain can often be soothed using simple home remedies, but it’s best to follow up with your healthcare provider if:
- your pain doesn’t improve within a couple of weeks of home treatment
- you have persistent swelling that doesn’t improve within two to five days
- you experience numbness or tingling that affects most or all of the bottom of your foot
- you have diabetes and are having foot pain
Get immediate medical care if you:
- are unable to put weight on your foot or walk
- have severe pain or swelling
- have an open wound
- have diabetes and any wound that isn’t healing or skin redness or warmth
- have signs of infection, such as fever and tenderness, warmth, redness, or pus draining over the affected area