Common Causes of Foot Pain

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What are the causes of foot pain and how can physical therapy help?. Rich Legg/Getty Images

As shock absorbers, our feet cushion up to one million pounds of pressure during a single hour of strenuous exercise. They also support 1.5 times our bodyweight during walking and running activities. Is it not hard to see why our feet are highly susceptible to injury?

Foot pain is a frequent reason why people visit their podiatrist or orthopedic physician. With over 26 bones, 33 joints, and 5 ligaments, there are many structures that can be injured in the foot.

Some of the most common disorders of the foot are reviewed below.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. It results from irritation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, which runs across the bottom of your foot — connecting your heel bone to your toes. People with plantar fasciitis experience pain across the bottom of the foot. Discomfort with plantar fasciitis is more common in the morning after waking up.


Metatarsalgia is a condition used to describe a painful foot condition in the area just before the toes, or the ball-of-the-foot. It is called metatarsalgia because the bones in this region of the foot are named the metatarsals. With prolonged jumping or running activities, an increased stress load is placed on this region. Over time, the metatarsal bones become swollen and pain results.

Turf Toe

Turf toe is a sprain at the base of the great toe.

It occurs when the big toe bends back beyond its normal range of motion. This causes a tear in the ligaments that support it. Pain with turf toe is experienced during walking and running activities.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs when the main nerve that goes to the foot is compressed by bone or tissue.

You may be more familiar with a similar condition in the wrist called "carpal tunnel syndrome." The symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome are typically felt on the inside of the foot region and are burning, tingling, and shooting in nature.


Physical therapy is often one of the main ways to treat the symptoms of foot pain. Gentle stretching of the foot often helps to alleviate the discomfort felt due to the above disorders. Occasionally with plantar fasciitis, a brace is worn at night to keep the foot in a stretched position.

If you have foot pain, your physical therapist can also offer strategies to help treat your pain and improve your foot function. The ice bottle massage may be done to help control pain and inflammation. Your PT may also have you perform the plantar fascia stretch against a wall. This gently elongates your plantar fascia on the bottom of your foot.

If you have foot pain, check in with you doctor and then visit your physical therapist to learn ways you can overcome your foot pain and return to your normal active lifestyle.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT

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