Foot Pain and Problems
Anatomy of the foot
The foot is one of the most complex parts of the body. It is made up of 26 bones connected
by many joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The foot is susceptible to many stresses.
Foot problems can cause pain, inflammation, or injury. These problems can result in
limited movement and mobility.
What are the different types of foot problems?
Foot pain is often caused by improper foot function. Poorly fitting shoes can worsen
and, in some cases, cause foot problems. Shoes that fit properly and give good support
can prevent irritation to the foot joints and skin. There are many types of foot problems
that affect the heels, toes, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and joints of the foot.
The symptoms of foot problems may look like other medical conditions and problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
What are heel spurs?
A heel spur is a bone growth on the heel bone. It is usually located on the underside
of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a long band of connective
tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. This connective tissue holds
the arch together and acts as a shock absorber during activity. If the plantar fascia
is overstretched from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes, or being overweight, pain
can result from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone. Over
time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress resulting in heel spurs. Treatment
options may include:
Anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen
Proper stretching before activity
Proper footwear or shoe inserts
Surgery (for more severe, prolonged conditions)
What is a corn?
Corns are yellowish, callus growths that develop on top of the toes. Corns develop
because of abuse or stress. Often, a corn develops where a toe rubs against a shoe
or another toe. Corns can cause extreme discomfort and pain. Treatment may include:
Trimming the corn by shaving the layers of dead skin
Applying pads around the corn area
Wearing larger shoes to comfortably fit your foot without rubbing
To avoid corn development, always buy shoes that fit properly.
What is a bunion?
A bunion is a protrusion of bone or tissue around a joint. Bunions may occur at the
base of the great toe or at the base of the little toe, and often occur when the joint
is stressed over a period of time. Women get bunions more often than men do because
they may wear tight, pointed, and confining shoes. Bunions can also be a result of
arthritis, which often affects the big toe joint.
Treatment of bunions may vary depending on the pain and deformity. Treatment may include:
Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes (particularly shoes that conform to the shape
of the foot and do not cause pressure areas)
Surgery (for pain, not for cosmetic purposes)
Applying pads to the affected area
Medicine, such as ibuprofen
What is Morton neuroma?
Morton neuroma is a buildup of benign (noncancerous) tissue in the nerves running
between the long bones of the foot. Morton neuroma occurs when two bones rub together
and squeeze the nerve between them. Most often, neuromas develop between the bones
leading to the third and fourth toes. Morton neuroma often causes swelling, tenderness,
and pain. If the pain becomes severe, it may cause tingling, numbness, and burning
in the toes. It usually occurs after standing or walking for a long period of time.
Treatment for this condition may involve rest or a change in footwear that does not
restrict the foot. If the problem persists, cortisone injections or surgery may be
What are hammertoes?
A hammertoe is a condition in which the toe buckles, causing the middle joint of the
affected toe to poke out. Tight-fitting shoes that put pressure on the hammertoe often
aggravate this condition. Often a corn develops at this site. Treatment for hammertoes
What is an ankle sprain?
An ankle sprain is an injury to the foot's ligaments in the ankle. Ligaments are tough
bands of elastic tissue that connect bones to each other. Ankle sprains may occur
if the ankle rolls, turns, or twists beyond its normal range of motion. Ankle sprains
may be caused by awkward foot placement, irregular surfaces, weak muscles, loose ligaments,
or wearing shoes with spiked heels. The symptoms of a sprain will depend on how severely
the ligaments are stretched or torn, but usually include swelling, pain, or bruising.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the sprain, but may include:
Resting the ankle
Wrapping the ankle with elastic bandage or tape
Ice pack application (to reduce inflammation)
Elevating the ankle
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen to help reduce the pain and
Gradual return to walking and exercise
A walking cast (for moderate sprains)
Surgery (for severe sprains)
What is a foot fracture?
With 26 bones in a single foot, almost any of them can be broken. Many fractures do
not require surgery, or even a cast, as they will heal on their own with some support.
When a foot is fractured, the site of the fracture usually is painful and swollen.
The site of the fracture will determine the course of treatment, if needed, including:
Ankle joint fractures. These fractures may be serious and require immediate medical attention. Ankle fractures
usually require a cast, and some may require surgery if the bones are too separated
Metatarsal bone fractures. Fractures of the metatarsal bones, located in the middle of the foot, often do not
require a cast. A stiff-soled shoe may be all that is needed for support as the foot
heals. Sometimes, surgery is needed to correct misaligned bones or fractured segments.
Sesamoid bone fractures. The sesamoid bones are 2 small, round bones at the end of the metatarsal bone of the
big toe. Usually, padded soles can help relieve pain. However, sometimes, the sesamoid
bone may have to be surgically removed.
Toe fractures. Fractures of the toes normally can heal with or without a cast.
What is foot pain?
Foot pain can be debilitating to an active lifestyle. Foot pain can have many sources,
from fractures and sprains to nerve damage. Listed below are 3 common areas of pain
in the foot and their causes:
Pain in the ball of the foot. Pain in the ball of the foot, located on the bottom of the foot behind the toes, may
be caused by nerve or joint damage in that area. In addition, a benign (noncancerous)
growth, such as Morton's neuroma, may cause the pain. Corticosteroid injections and
wearing supportive shoe inserts may help relieve the pain. Sometimes, surgery is needed.
Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is characterized by severe pain in the heel of the foot, especially
when standing up after resting. The condition is due to an overuse injury of the sole
surface (plantar) of the foot and results in inflammation of the fascia, a tough,
fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes.
Plantar fasciitis is more common in women, people who are overweight, people with
occupations that require a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces, people with
flat feet, and people with high arches. Walking or running, especially with tight
calf muscles, may also cause the condition.
Treatment may include:
Achilles tendon injury. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf
muscle to the heel bone. However, this tendon is also the most common site of rupture
or tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse.
Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse of the tendon and calf muscles. Symptoms
may include mild pain after exercise that worsens gradually, stiffness that disappears
after the tendon warms up, and swelling. Treatment may include:
Diabetes and vascular disease
Diabetes affects the nerves and blood vessels and blood flow throughout the whole
body, including the legs and feet. People with diabetes need to check their feet regularly
to identify sores or wounds on their feet before complications develop. In addition,
they will need to see a podiatrist to help manage diabetes-related foot problems.