Foot Pain

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Foot Pain

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain in the foot


Foot pain is common. Nearly everyone gets it at some point. There are a number of reasons why some people have more foot pain than others.

  • Aging: Foot pain is more common in older people. As people age, the feet widen and flatten. The skin becomes thinner and there is less padding over the bones.
  • Pregnancy: Foot pain is more common in pregnant women. During pregnancy, the ligaments become more relaxed. Weight gain during pregnancy also puts more pressure on the feet.
  • Obesity: Foot pain is also more common in overweight people. Being overweight puts extra pressure on the bones and other parts of the feet.
  • Overuse: People that do jobs that require long periods of standing or walking can have foot pain.
  • Shoes: Shoes that are too tight or fit poorly often cause painful feet. High heels are bad for feet.

Often foot pain can be from arthritis. Arthritis means joint ("arthr") inflammation ("itis"). The most common forms of arthritis are:

  • Gout: This type of arthritis happens to some people because of a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Pain from gout or gouty arthritis comes on quickly. A person will notice rapid onset of severe pain, redness, and swelling in one joint.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is also called "wear and tear" arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis. As people get older the cartilage in the joints wears down. This type of arthritis often affects both sides of the body equally. The joints hurt and feel stiff. Osteoarthritis is seen more often after age 50. Nearly everyone will get some degree of wear and tear arthritis as they get older.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is a rare type of arthritis. It usually affects both sides of the body. In addition to pain, there can be joint redness, swelling, stiffness, and warmth. Special blood tests are needed to diagnose this type of arthritis.

Causes of Heel Pain

  • Achilles Tendinitis: This occurs when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed where it attaches to the back of the heel. It can be caused by overuse. Another cause is not warming up before exercise.
  • Haglund's Deformity (Pump Bump): This is a type of bursitis that occurs on the back of the heel. It is caused by the shoe rim rubbing up against the back of the heel.
  • Heel spurs: These are bony growths of the heel bone where the plantar tendons attach. The pain is worst on the front part of the heel.

Causes of Arch and Ball of Foot Pain

  • Flat feet: Flat feet (no arch) can be inherited. It can also show up later when a person is an adult. When it occurs in adulthood, it is called posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
  • Bunion (Hallux valgus): A bunion is a large bony bump at the base of the big toe. The big toe points inward and the joint sticks outward. A bunion can be caused by poorly fitting shoes. It can be also inherited. Sometimes bunions occur without a known cause. Surgery by a podiatrist is sometimes needed.
  • Bunionette (Tailor's Bunion): This is a large bony bump at the base of the little toe (5th MTP joint). The little toe points inward and the joint sticks outward.
  • Callus: A callus is a thickened area skin on the sole of the foot. A callus is sometimes painful. Most often, they are caused by shoes that are too tight or fit poorly. Constant rubbing causes the skin to thicken.
  • Morton's Neuroma: This is a pinched nerve inside the foot. It can be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight. Tight shoes squeeze the foot bones together and pinch the nerve.
  • Muscle cramps: Brief pains (lasting 1 to 15 minutes) may be due to muscle spasms. Foot or calf muscles cramp more easily. Cramps can awaken a person from sleep. The pain should go away fully when the muscle spasm stops. Muscle cramps can occur more commonly in pregnancy.
  • Plantar Fasciitis: This occurs when the band of tissue in the sole (plantar area) becomes inflamed.
  • Plantar Warts: A plantar wart looks a lot like a callus on the sole of the foot. The difference is that it is caused by a viral infection. The skin is thickened, slightly raised, and may contain tiny black specks.
  • Stress Fracture: This is a hairline fracture of a foot bone. Strenuous activities like jogging, high-impact aerobics, and hiking can cause this injury.

When Should You Seek Medical Help Right Away?

Here are some signs that the foot pain might be serious. You should seek medical help right away if:

  • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
  • Foot is cold or blue compared to other foot

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Foot Pain

Call 911 Now

  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Severe pain
  • Fever and swollen foot
  • Fever and red area of skin
  • Large red area or red streak
  • Purple or black skin on foot or toe
  • Numbness (loss of feeling) in foot of new onset
  • Foot is cold or blue compared to other foot
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Looks like a boil, infected sore, or other infected rash
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Foot pain keeps you from working or going to school
  • Foot pain lasts more than 7 days
  • Foot pains on and off for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)
  • Foot numbness (loss of feeling) or tingling (pins and needles feeling) for weeks or months
  • Swollen foot
  • Pain in foot around big toe joint
  • Diabetes or poor blood flow (poor circulation, vascular disease)
  • Caused by known bunions, corns, heel spurs, flat feet, or other known long-term foot problems
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild foot pain
  • Caused by overuse from recent vigorous activity (such as aerobics, dancing, jogging, sports, or heavy labor)
  • Caused by muscle cramp(s) in the foot

Care Advice

Mild Foot Pain

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Foot pain can happen from too much walking, running, hiking, or dancing. Shoes that are too tight can cause pain. It can also be caused by arthritis, gout, bunions, corns, heel spurs, and tendinitis.
    • The best way to treat foot pain will depend on the exact cause.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cold or Heat:
    • Some people find that a cold or heat pack helps with the pain.
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore area for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day and then as needed.
    • Heat Pack: If pain lasts over 2 days, apply heat to the sore area. Use a heat pack, heating pad, or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes and then as needed. You can also take a hot bath or hot shower instead. Move the sore area under the warm water.
  3. What to Expect:
    • Pain from overuse should start to get better in a couple days. The pain should go away within one week.
    • Pain and stiffness from arthritis can be chronic. That is, it can last weeks, months or years. Sometimes the pain can flare up and then get better after a couple days.
    • What to expect in other cases will depend on the cause of pain.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Severe pain
    • Pain keeps you from doing normal activities (such as school, work)
    • Pain lasts more than 7 days
    • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Muscle Cramps

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Muscle cramps can occur in the feet.
    • Heat cramps are a type of muscle cramp that happens during exercise on a hot day.
    • You can stop a muscle cramp by stretching the muscle. You should drink extra fluids and eat something salty if you have a heat muscle cramp.
  2. What to Expect:
    • Muscle cramps usually last 5 to 30 minutes. Once the muscle cramp stops, the muscle quickly returns to normal. The pain should go away completely.
    • If you have frequent muscle cramps, you should talk with your doctor. Sometimes the doctor can give medicines to reduce the muscle cramps.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Foot is cool or blue compared to other side
    • Calf swelling or constant leg pain occur
    • Signs of infection occur (such as spreading redness, red streak, warmth)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Over-the-Counter Pain Medicines

  1. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  2. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

Preventing Foot Problems

  1. Foot Care - General:
    • Examine your feet on a regular basis. Check for sores, redness, and calluses.
    • Avoid going barefoot in warm, damp places like locker rooms.
    • Change your socks or hose daily, or when they get damp.
    • If you are overweight, work on losing weight.
  2. Foot Care - Cleaning:
    • Wash your feet daily using a mild soap (such as Dove) and lukewarm water. Rinse off all soap.
    • Dry your feet well, especially between the toes.
    • Put a small amount of lotion (unscented with lanolin) on your feet after bathing. This will help seal moisture in the skin. Do not put lotion between your toes.
  3. Foot Care - Nail Trimming:
    • Trim your toenails straight across. Use a nail clipper. Do not cut down corners. You should be able to see the corners.
    • If you have trouble cutting your toenails, have someone else cut them. Podiatrists can provide nail care.
  4. Wear Shoes That Fit:
    • Shoes should have a wide toe box, so that your toes do not feel cramped.
    • The shoe's toecap should be one finger width longer than your longest toe.
    • When you buy new shoes, buy them later in the day. Reason: feet swell during the day and become larger.
    • Avoid high heels. Heels should not be taller than 2 inches (5 cm).
  5. Wear the Right Shoe for the Right Activity:
    • Wear running shoes for jogging or running.
    • Wear the correct type of protective shoes for your workplace.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have more questions
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 9/21/2019 1:00:23 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:24 AM

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