Health Information

Foot pain

Definition

Pain or discomfort can be felt anywhere in the foot, including the heel, toes, arch, instep, sole, or ankles.

See also:

Alternative Names

Pain - foot

Causes

Poorly fitting shoes can cause foot pain. Problems may include:

  • Bunions: A bump at the base of the big toe, which can become inflamed. Bunions often develop over time from wearing narrow-toed shoes.
  • Calluses and corns:Thickened skin from rubbing or pressure. Calluses are on the balls of the feet or heels. Corns appear on the top of your toes.
  • Hammer toes: Toes that curl downward into a claw-like position.
  • Fallen arches: Also called flat feet.
  • Plantar warts: Sores on the soles of your feet due to pressure.

Other common causes of foot pain include:

Aging and being overweight also increase your chances of having foot problems.

See also: Heel pain

Home Care

The following steps may help relieve your foot pain:

  • Apply ice to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Raise your painful foot as much as possible.
  • Reduce your activity until you feel better.
  • Wear foot pads to prevent rubbing and irritation.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. (Talk to your doctor first if you have a history of ulcer or liver problems.)

Other home care steps depend on what is causing your foot pain.

  • For plantar warts, try an over-the-counter wart removal preparation.
  • For calluses, soak in warm water and then rub them down with a pumice stone. Do NOT cut or burn corns or calluses.
  • For foot pain caused by a stress fracture, an extended rest period is often necessary. Crutches may be used for a week or so to take the pressure off, if your foot is particularly painful.
  • For foot pain due to plantar fasciitis, shoe inserts and stretches may help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if:

  • You have sudden, severe foot pain
  • Your foot pain began following an injury, especially if your foot is bleeding or bruising, or you cannot put weight on it
  • You have redness or swelling of the joint, an open sore or ulcer on your foot, or a fever
  • You have pain in your foot and have diabetes or a disease that affects blood flow
  • Your foot does not feel better after using at-home treatments for 1-2 weeks

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your doctor will perform a physical examination, paying particular attention to your feet, legs, and back, your posture, and how you walk.

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and medical history, such as:

  • Do you have pain in one or both feet?
  • What part of the foot hurts?
  • Does the pain move from joint to joint, or does it always occur in the same place?
  • Did the pain begin suddenly or slowly?
  • How long have you had the pain?
  • Is it worse at night or when you first wake up in the morning?
  • Is it getting better?
  • Does anything make your pain feel better or worse?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have numbness in your toes?

X-rays may be done to help your doctor diagnose the cause of your foot pain.

Treatment depends on the exact cause of the foot pain. Treatment may include:

  • A cast, if you broke a bone
  • Removal of plantar warts, corns, or calluses by a foot specialist
  • Orthotics, or shoe inserts
  • Physical therapy to relieve tight or overused muscles
  • Foot surgery

Prevention

The following steps can prevent foot problems and foot pain:

  • Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes, with good arch support and cushioning.
  • Wear shoes with plenty of room around the ball of your foot and toe.
  • Avoid narrow-toed shoes and high heels.
  • Wear sneakers as often as possible, especially when walking.
  • Replace running shoes frequently.
  • Warm up and cool down when exercising. Always stretch first.
  • Increase your amount of exercise slowly over time to avoid putting excessive strain on your feet.
  • Lose weight if you need to.
  • Learn exercises to strengthen your feet and avoid pain. This can help flat feet and other potential foot problems.

References

Koenig MD. Ligament injuries. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section C.

Baer GS, Keene JS. Tendon injuries of the foot and ankle. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section D.

Brodsky JW, Bruck N. Stress fractures of the foot and ankle. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section E.

Klein SE. Conditions of the forefoot. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section H.

Hirose CB, Clanton TO, Wood RM. Etiology of injury to the foot and ankle. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section J.

Abu-Laban RV, Ho K. Ankle and foot. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 55.

Price MD, Chiodo CP. Foot and ankle pain. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Harris ED Jr, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 43.


Review Date: 2/19/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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