Foot Pain Part 1: Top 10 Causes of Foot Pain

Reviewed by Janet D. Pearl, MD, MSc

An aching foot means inconvenience and discomfort. It tends to serve as a hindrance and drains out the joy of waking up every morning. Three out of four American are likely to suffer from foot related problems at some point of their life span. However, most people don’t seek medical assistance to get rid of their problems until the symptoms are advanced and progressive.  Healthcare providers recommend emergent and urgent care to address all cases of foot pain in order to maintain steady gait and foot motion. In addition, if you are suffering from a chronic medical or musculoskeletal illness, it is highly recommended to consult a podiatrist at regular intervals to maintain optimal foot care.

The 10 Most Frequently Reported Causes of Foot Pain:

  1. Bunions: A Bunions is a bony bump that is at the base of your big or little toe and is characterized by localized pain, redness and swelling. Bunions occur due to misalignment of bones and usually presents as a swelling of the little or big toe. The key symptom is a painful swelling that gets worse with certain activities or worsens with prolonged use of narrow toed footwear. Individuals who have a history of certain foot conditions like flat feet, arthritis or flat pedal arches are at much higher risk of developing bunions.
  2. Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is a condition that is characterized by ongoing pain in the heels or arch of the foot due to persistent inflammation of plantar fascia (the thick fibrous tissue that supports the bottom of the foot).
  3. Heel spurs: Heel spur is characterized by deposition of calcium crystals and other salts along the heel bone. Heel spurs are a common finding in patients with Plantar Fasciitis. The classic symptoms of heel spur include severe pain in the foot that worsens upon walking and standing.
  4. Osteoarthritis of the foot and ankle: Osteoarthritis of foot and ankle joints refers to wear and tear related changes in the joints that are common with aging. The joints can become inflamed and progressive joint deterioration can lead to a breakdown of the joint cartilage, with the bones rubbing and wearing against each other. Osteoarthritis is characterized by tenderness, pain, stiffness and swelling of the affected joint/s.
  5. Achilles tendonitis: usually presents with painful heels and lower calf tissue. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel and can become irritated by too much walking or running particularly in individuals who are not used to physical training. Walking on a steep hill or uneven terrain can also put significant strain on the tendon, leading to pain in the lower leg.
  6. Hammertoe: hammertoe is a permanent bending of toe at the middle joint. It is due to an imbalance of a supporting tendon. There are no specific gender or age predisposition for getting a hammertoe.
  7. Morton’s neuroma: Morton’s neuroma is characterized by painful ball of the foot or pain between the toes. Thickening of the nerve at the base of toe results in pain, numbness or tingling (frequently in the area of third and fourth web space). Morton’s neuroma occurs ten times more in females than males probably because of their foot structure or the high narrow shoes that they wear.
  8. Corns and calluses: Corns result from the undue pressure on the skin from within, for example pressure exerted from a bone. Calluses on the other hand are the thickened, hard patches of skin resulting from the exposure to persistent friction. Corns usually appear on the tops or sides of toes while calluses form on the soles of feet.
  9. Ingrown toenails: This foot condition is characterized by swollen toes or soreness along the edges or sides of the toes. Ingrown toenails are due to the abnormal growth of toenails along the side margins of toes (instead of forward growth). In poorly managed cases, patients report discomfort, swelling and pain. The chances of bleeding under the nail are also fairly high (especially if the toes are subjected to severe pressure for too long).
  10. Toe fungus: Toenail fungus (also know as onychomycosis) is not usually painful or symptomatic. This is probably one of the reasons why it usually goes unnoticed for a long time. Onychomycosis is fairly common and is highly transmissible, so it can spread between your toes. It causes a yellowish discoloured and thickened nail

Foot pain can significantly alter the quality of your life. Most cases of trivial foot pain can worsen to evolve into bigger issues if left untreated. It is highly recommended to see an experienced clinician at regular intervals to maintain optimal foot health.

Watch for our follow up tomorrow: Foot Pain Part 2: How to Treat the top 10 causes of Foot Pain

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