Types of Foot Pain and Conditions

According to an article in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, foot pain affects between 17 and 42 percent of adults at any given time, with the most reported sites being the arch area of the foot (the midfoot), the big toe and the bone just behind it, and the bottom of the heel. 

The problem with foot pain is that there are many different sources of pain, and it can be difficult to describe, making it sometimes even challenging for healthcare professionals to get to the root of your pain. 

That being said, foot pain can be very disabling, and research suggests it can affect a person's mood, risk of falls, and quality of life. So getting to the bottom of your discomfort is paramount. 

Here are the most common painful conditions that affect the foot. However, please be sure to see your personal doctor or a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in foot conditions) for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to get you back on your feet. 

1

Woman taking off shoes
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Heel pain is a common foot problem and has a number of possible causes. The most common cause is plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone. The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that spans the sole of the foot and provides shock absorption while walking.

The pain of plantar fasciitis is generally worse when a person first steps out of their bed in the morning, and it usually improves with movement, although a dull pain often persists. 

 

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2

Occasionally, foot pain is caused by a pinched or irritated nerve. One type of pinched nerve, or nerve entrapment, that is often seen in the foot is called tarsal tunnel syndrome. With this condition, a person may experience shooting, burning, aching, numb, and/or tingling pain that radiates from the inside (big toe side) of the ankle into the arch and sole. The pain tends to be worse at night, and sometimes it travels up to the calf or higher.

 

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3

Metatarsalgia is sharp pain in the area of the ball of the foot, which is given its shape by the rounded ends of the metatarsal bones. The pain can feel like a person is stepping on a stone and is usually eased by sitting down and worsened by walking barefoot.

Many different conditions can cause metatarsalgia—most often faulty foot functioning, overuse, or a decreased fat pad on the sole of the foot.

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4

Another common nerve problem within the foot is Morton's neuroma, which causes shooting or burning pain between the toes—most often between toes three and four. Overpronation and/or wearing tight shoes has been associated with this condition. 

 

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5

Tendons are the cord-like structures that anchor muscles to bone. When they are over-stretched or over-used, tendonitis can occur.

Tendonitis causes pain with activity or stretching, and the affected tendon is usually painful to the touch. Recurrent tendonitis may be a sign of tendon tearing and weakening, also known as tendinosis.

Common types of tendonitis affecting the foot and ankle include: 

 

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6

Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage within a joint from physical wear-and-tear. The joint damage manifests as decreased joint space, worn cartilage, and bone spurs surrounding the joint.

The pain and lack of mobility from osteoarthritis are often experienced at the ankle joint, the subtalar joint (click for image), and the big toe joint. Other less common forms of arthritis that can cause foot pain include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis may include pain, stiffness, a vibrating or grinding sound or sensation, and swelling, and these symptoms generally worsen with exercise.

 

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7

An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of a toenail grows or is pressed into the skin edge. It usually occurs at the edge of the big toenail as a result of shoe pressure. Even the smallest amount of ingrowing can be very painful. Besides pain, other signs of an ingrown toenail include red or swollen skin adjacent to the nail, which are signs of infection. The ingrown piece of nail is often unseen because it is buried beneath the skin.

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8

Calluses are thickened areas of skin over parts of the feet where excessive amounts of pressure or friction occur. Calluses at the heel can become painful if they fissure, or split open.

Corns occur on the toes where they rub against the shoe. Sometimes the tiniest callus or corn can cause intense pain because it extends deep into the layers of the skin and presses on nerves. Corns and calluses also look similar to warts, which may also cause discomfort.

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9

A bunion is a knobby bump on the side of the foot, just below the big toe joint. Bunions can vary in size and are the result of the big toe shifting out of position over time and pressing against the second toe, which results in abnormal stress on the big toe joint and surrounding ligaments.

Bunion pain can flare up on occasion and may be accompanied by bursitis (an inflamed pocket of fluid) over the bunion. This may cause redness and swelling, in addition to pain. Bunions can also occur on the pinkie toe side of the foot. For ideas on how to deal with bunion pain, read about five tips for soothing bunion pain. 

 

 

 

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10

Hammer toe is a common condition that occurs in the lesser toes. It occurs when the joint closest to where the toe becomes the foot (called the metatarsophalangeal joint) extends upwards and the proximal interphalangeal joint (the next joint as you move up the toe) flexes downward. This makes the toe bent like a hammer.

Tight shoes, especially high heels, are a key cause of hammer toe, but sometimes it arises as a result of an underlying medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, or diabetes. 

A Word From Verywell

If you are enduring foot pain, it's important to see a doctor for an evaluation. You deserve to feel well and get back to your usual activities, and with the right therapy plan, you can. 

Sources:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. (March 2015). Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle. 

Fields KB. (November 2016). Evaluation and diagnosis of common causes of foot pain in adults. In: UpToDate, Eiff P (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. 

Hawke F, Burns J. Understanding the nature and mechanism of foot painJ Foot Ankle Res. 2009;2:1

Schrier JC, Verheyen CC, Louwerens JW. Definitions of hammer toe and claw toe: an evaluation of the literature. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2009 May-Jun;99(3):194-7.

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