Top-of-the-foot pain typically results from inflammation or injury. It can also occur due to nerve damage. Treatment can depend on the cause and may include rest and medication.
Our feet are made up of bones, ligaments, and tendons. These parts carry our entire body weight all day long, so it’s not much of a surprise that foot pain is relatively common.
Sometimes, we feel pain at the top of our foot that can be uncomfortable when walking and even standing still. This pain can be mild or severe, depending on the cause and the extent of any possible injury. We’ll cover the possible causes of this pain and the steps you can take to relieve it.
Pain on the top of the foot can occur with different health conditions, but most commonly happens due to overuse. Overuse injuries may result from a specific exercise like running.
Conditions caused by overuse include:
- Extensor tendonitis: This is caused by overuse or tight-fitting shoes. The tendons that run along the top of the foot and pull the foot upward become inflamed and painful.
- Stress fractures in the foot: Pain can result particularly from fractures in the metatarsal bones located at the top of the feet. This injury will likely have swelling as a symptom.
- Sinus tarsi syndrome: This condition is characterized by inflammation of the sinus tarsi, or the channel found between the heel and ankle bone. This condition causes pain in the top of the foot and outside the ankle.
Other causes of pain on the top of the foot can include:
- gout, which can cause sudden, intense pain in the joint at the base of the big toe
- bone spurs, which are painful growths that form along your joints, in the joints in your feet by your toes
- peripheral neuropathy, which causes pain, prickling, or numbness that can spread up from the feet into the legs
- common peroneal nerve dysfunction, which is the dysfunction of a branch of the sciatic nerve that can cause tingling and pain at the top of the foot, along with weakness of the foot or lower leg
If you have persistent foot pain that lasts longer than a week despite home treatment, consider making an appointment to see a doctor. You may also want to talk with a doctor if your pain is severe enough to keep you from walking or if you have burning pain, numbness, or tingling on the affected foot. If you contact a general practitioner, they may refer you to a podiatrist.
When you make an appointment with a doctor, they may ask you about:
- other symptoms you have
- potential ways you may have injured your foot
- your physical activity level
- any past injuries to your feet or ankle
A doctor will typically examine your foot. They may press different areas on the foot to see where you feel pain. They may also ask you to walk and perform exercises like rolling your foot to evaluate your range of motion.
To test for extensor tendonitis, a doctor will ask you to flex your foot downward and then try to pull your toes up while you resist. If you feel pain, extensor tendonitis is likely the cause.
If the doctor suspects a broken bone, fracture, or bone spurs, they’ll likely order an X-ray of the foot.
Other tests a doctor may perform include:
- blood tests, which can identify conditions such as gout
- an MRI to look for damage to the peroneal nerve
Because our feet support our entire body weight, a mild injury can worsen if left untreated. Seeking prompt treatment if you suspect an injury may help speed your recovery.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the condition and may include:
- physical therapy, which can help treat conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, extensor tendonitis, and damage to the peroneal nerve
- a cast or walking boot for injuries such as broken bones or fractures
- NSAIDs or other anti-inflammatory drugs, which can help reduce inflammation, including inflammation from gout
- home treatment
Home treatment can help with foot pain in many cases. You should rest and stay off the affected foot as much as possible. You can apply ice to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time. When you have to walk, wear supportive, well-fitting shoes that aren’t too tight.
Most causes of pain on the top of the foot are highly treatable, but they need to be treated before the pain and injury get worse. If you have pain in the top of the foot, try to stay off your foot as much as possible for at least five days and apply ice to the affected area for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
If home treatments don’t seem to help after 5 days, consider making an appointment with a doctor.
The following includes common questions about pain on the top of the foot.
What does it mean when the top of my foot is hurting?
Pain on the top of your foot typically results from injury, whether overuse from running or jumping or wearing shoes that are too tight. It can also result from certain health conditions, such as gout. You may also have nerve pain on top of your foot that may extend up the leg. This can result from injury or health conditions like peripheral neuropathy.
What does tendonitis feel like on top of the foot?
Extensor tendonitis can cause discomfort, pain, and swelling in the tendons that run across the top of your foot. It may hurt during and after exercise, including walking, and after being on your feet.
How do I stop the pain on the top of my foot from stabbing?
To relieve stabbing pain on top of your foot, you can try keeping your weight off that foot by resting and applying ice for up to 20 minutes. You may need medical attention if the pain is severe or doesn’t resolve after about 5 days of rest.
Can plantar fasciitis cause pain at the top of the foot?
Plantar fasciitis typically causes heel pain and stiffness. In some cases, you may experience pain in other areas of the foot in addition to heel pain. But it isn’t common with plantar fasciitis to only experience pain on the top of the foot.
People tend to develop pain on the top of their foot from overuse injury, such as running, or from wearing shoes that are too tight. Typically, keeping your weight off the affected foot may help relieve pain. In some cases, you may need to wear a cast or attend physical therapy to support your recovery.
Top-of-foot pain can also occur with health conditions such as gout or peripheral neuropathy. In these cases, treating the underlying cause may relieve pain.