13 Common Causes of Foot Pain

There is almost nothing quite as debilitating as foot pain. When it hurts to take even a single step, the feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming.

When pain knocks you right off your feet—literally.

Feet are complicated parts of the body. That means foot pain can have many sources, including injuries to bones, ligaments, nerves, or even the skin. Some conditions are easily treatable with home remedies, while others can be complex and require prompt medical evaluation. Regardless, foot pain is something that deserves attention.

What are common causes of foot pain?

When your foot is painful, what are the most likely culprits? And how can you easily identify these conditions, anyway? Keep reading to find out.

The first common cause of foot pain? It’s a bane of the big toe…

13. Bunions

What are bunions?

Bunions are easily recognizable. They’re unsightly bulges at the sides of the big toes. Specifically, they occur at the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint at the base of the big toe. Bunionettes are smaller bunions that affect the joints of the little toes.

How do bunions happen?

This condition occurs when the MTP joint slips out of place and gradually moves toward the other toes. Bunions do not go away on their own. In fact, they get bigger over time, actually deforming the bones as they grow. This deformity can then cause the MTP joint to protrude further and further.

What do bunions feel like?

Common symptoms of bunions—besides the obvious bumps—are numbness, pain, redness, and swelling.

Who is at greater risk?

Risk factors for bunions include:

  • Age: Older people are more likely to develop bunions.
  • Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop bunions.
  • Foot shape: Certain foot shapes are more prone to developing this condition.
  • Arthritis: This condition can increase the risk of bunions.
  • Footwear: Prolonged wearing of pointy-toed shoes can cause or worsen this condition.

How are bunions treated?

Treatment includes:

  • Wearing comfortable shoes with extra room in the toes
  • Getting off the feet during a painful flare-up
  • Using specialized shoe inserts
  • Receiving anti-inflammatory injections for severe pain
  • Undergoing surgery to reshape bone and remove damaged soft tissue

While bunions affect the big toe, the following cause of foot pain is a problem associated with the sole of the foot. In fact, it is the #1 cause of heel pain…

12. Plantar Fasciitis

What is plantar fasiitis?

The number one cause of heel pain, the plantar fascia is a web-like band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. When it gets inflamed, it causes severe pain in either the heel or mid-foot.

What does this condition feel like?

Some describe it as an ache, others as a sting or a burn that typically affects one foot at a time. It can make walking difficult or even impossible. The pain tends to be worse in the morning and often lessens throughout the day.

How does this condition happen and who is at risk?

No one knows precisely what causes the condition. However, it is believed to be related to overuse or strain. That means that runners, individuals frequently on their feet, or overweight people are all at greater risk for developing this condition.

How is this condition treated?

Luckily, this condition quite often will go away on its own. Until then, the following can be helpful:

  • Resting the foot
  • Putting ice on the sore area
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Wearing appropriate shoes that support the arch

If trying the above doesn’t result in pain improvement, a visit to the doctor is in order. If your condition makes you feel like you’re stepping on something, though, it may be the following condition…

11. Morton’s Neuroma

What is Morton’s neuroma?

When the tissue surrounding the nerve that lies between the third and fourth toes thickens, it’s called Morton’s neuroma.

What does it feel like?

It usually begins with mild discomfort in the ball of the foot. This sensation is then followed by tingling, numbness, and pain. Often, patients report feeling like they’re standing on a marble.

Who is at risk?

Morton’s neuroma is more common in:

  • Women
  • Those with flat feet
  • Runners
  • Those who play high-impact sports like basketball
  • Those who participate in gymnastics
  • People who wear ill-fitting and/or high-heeled shoes

How is this condition diagnosed?

For an official diagnosis, a physician will squeeze the sides of the foot while pressing between the third and fourth metatarsals. This method is called the Mulder’s test. If there is a distinct “clicking” sound, then the patient indeed has Morton’s neuroma.

How is this condition treated?

Ways to manage this condition include:

  • Massages
  • Stretching exercises
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Corticosteroid shots
  • Surgical interventions in extreme cases

This condition isn’t the only one that can affect the balls of the feet. This next source of foot pain often leads to pesky soreness in roughly the same area…

10. Metatarsalgia

What is metatarsalgia?

Metatarsalgia refers to pain in the ball of the foot caused by trauma and inflammation of the metatarsal heads.

How does it happen?

It tends to happen after high-impact activities like running. However, it can also occur as a result of a traumatic impact to the foot, like stepping on something hard.

Who is at risk?

The following can place someone at greater risk for this condition:

  • Having certain foot structures
  • Having pre-existing foot problems
  • Being overweight
  • Having arthritis

What does it feel like?

The symptoms vary from numbness and tingling to an achy tenderness or sharp pain. The discomfort is generally worse when standing or when walking barefoot.

Morton’s neuroma or matatarsalgia?

This condition is quite similar to Morton’s neuroma. One way to spot the difference, though, is to pay close attention to exactly where the pain occurs. With Morton’s neuroma, the pain specifically radiates from betweent he third and fourth metatarsals. Conversely, metatarsalgia generally covers the entire ball of the foot.

How is this condition managed?

Some easy, at-home ways to manage this condition include:

  • Resting the foot
  • Icing the foot
  • Wrapping/compressing the foot
  • Wearing proper shoes
  • Using specialized shoe inserts

Usually, this condition goes away on its own after a few days, but if the pain persists and the at-home treatments fail, it is important to consult a physician. Now, while this condition is a little trickier to diagnose, the following cause of foot pain is much easier to spot. In fact, it’s as simple to diagnose as using the “wet footprint test”…

9. Fallen Arches

What are fallen arches?

Fallen arches, or flat feet, refers to when the arches of the feet are extremely low. In some cases, they aren’t present at all.

How do fallen arches cause foot pain?

Over time, the muscles in the foot struggle to compensate for the lack of an arch. This struggle strains the muscles. The result? An ache or stiffening in the mid-foot or heel. Patients often feel as if their foot is collapsing.

Who is at risk?

This condition is often hereditary and asymptomatic. It can, however, develop later in life as a result of a foot injury or medical condition like arthritis. Obesity and pregnancy can also result in fallen arches.

How is this condition diagnosed?

The condition is easy to diagnose with a visual inspection. If a visual inspection alone isn’t enough, the go-to diagnostic test is the “wet footprint test.”

How does the wet footprint test work?

The test begins by dipping a foot in water, then making a footprint on a hard, flat surface. The print will either be narrow in the mid-foot area or it will be boxy and thick throughout the foot. The thicker the print, the more likely it is that the individual has fallen arches.

How is this condition treated?

Specialized arch supports are helpful in treating flat feet, as are exercises to increase flexibility, like yoga. In drastic cases, surgery may be needed to alleviate severe pain.

Now, the next condition is commonly associated with the shoulders and knees. However, it quite easily can affect the feet, too…

8. Bursitis

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, the small, fluid-filled sacs that provide padding for the joints.

How does it happen?

It is caused by overuse or injury and can affect any joint, but most often the shoulders, hips or knees. However, this condition can also affect the feet.

What does this condition feel like?

Bursitis in the foot typically occurs in the big toe or heel. Heel bursitis specifically affects the Achilles tendon. If squeezed, it can cause a painful and tender ankle.

Wherever the location of the pain, the affected area will be swollen, red and may feel warm to the touch. Furthermore, activities like running and even walking will be difficult.

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors for developing this condition include:

  • Engaging in continuous repetitive movement, such as running
  • Age
  • Pre-existing medical conditions like arthritis, thyroid abnormalities, and diabetes
  • Temperature changes
  • Fluctuations in humidity
  • Changes in air pressure

How is this condition treated?

Usually bursitis gets better with time, but there are some steps you can take to avoid or minimize flare-ups. These steps can include:

  • Resting and icing the joint
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Improving flexibility
  • Not walking barefoot

If the symptoms persist for more than a few days, it is best to visit a physician. Now, this condition is hard to spot visually, unlike the following condition that was once known as “the disease of kings”…

7. Gout

What is gout?

Gout is a type of arthritis caused by hyperuricemia, the buildup of uric acid in the blood. This buildup causes crystals to form; these crystals can settle in certain joints.

What does gout feel like?

The base of the big toe is the most commonly affected joint. Notably, gout causes:

  • Severe pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

These symptoms often suddenly strike in the middle of the night, and the pain can be so severe that even the weight of a sheet on top of the affected area is unbearable.

What are the risk factors?

Gout is quite common, annually affecting more than 8 million people in the United States alone. Risk factors for gout include:

  • Family history
  • Sex (men are more likely to develop gout)
  • A high purine diet (organ meats, beef, certain seafood, etc.)
  • More than 2 alcoholic beverages a day
  • Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis

How is gout managed?

Without treatment, the symptoms will abate within two weeks. However, there will be severe pain during that time.

Can gout return?

Some people who have an attack may never get another one. With others, it becomes a chronic condition that needs to be managed.

When is medical care necessary?

Go to the doctor if the joint becomes hot to the touch or if a fever develops, as those issues can be signs of infection.

Like gout, the following condition is also quite common, and is the scourge of many a runner…

6. Extensor Tendonitis

What is extensor tendonitis?

Simply put, this condition is the inflammation of the extensor tendons on the tops of the feet. Sometimes the ankle, heel, or calf muscle is affected. Extensor tendonitis is common and is often the result of overuse, hence why runners experience it frequently.

What does this condition feel like?

Symptoms of extensor tendonitis include:

  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Discomfort from walking or wearing shoes

What are the risk factors?

There are plenty of risk factors for this condition, including:

  • Age: The older you get, the more likely you are to get tendonitis. Why? Because the tendons are less flexible and thus easier to injure.
  • Activity level: Runners and athletes are at greater risk for extensor tendonitis, as they are frequently on their feet.
  • Footwear: Wearing ill-fitting shoes may also aggravate the tendon.
  • Pre-existing injury: If the tendon itself is already injured, there is a higher chance of developing this condition.

How is this condition diagnosed?

Because the signs of extensor tendonitis are similar to many other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. So, many recommend resting the foot to see if the discomfort goes away on its own in a few days. If not, see a physician for an examination to eliminate other potential causes of the pain.

How is this condition managed?

The best way to manage this condition? Preventing it from happening in the first place. Now, preventing extensor tendonitis may be difficult, especially for active individuals. It can be done, however. Some ways to reduce the risk of developing this condition include:

  • Varying workouts
  • Wearing comfortable shoes
  • Stretching before and after physical activity

This condition can no doubt be painful. The following cause of foot pain, though, can really feel like someone brought the hammer down…

5. Hammer Toe

What is hammer toe?

Hammer toe is a deformity of the toes that causes them to bend abnormally in the middle joint. This downward flex resembles the shape of a hammer, hence the name. It most commonly affects the second, third, and fourth toes.

What does hammer toe feel like?

It is painful and can make walking extremely difficult. In fact, attempting to stretch or move the deformed toes often feels impossible with this condition.

What causes hammer toe and what are risk factors for it?

The condition is caused by muscle weakness and an imbalance in the middle joint of the toes. However, a toe injury or pre-existing medical condition like arthritis can also cause hammer toe.

Risk factors for this condition include:

  • Sex: It affects women more than men.
  • Footwear: High-heeled, narrow-toe shoes can increase risk.
  • Foot shape: Certain foot shapes are more likely to get hammer toe. For example, some at-risk foot features include a second toe that is longer than the big toe and high arches.

Prompt medical attention is key to treatment.

The condition needs to be treated promptly, while the toes are still flexible. Why? Because waiting too long means the toes can be too stiff to treat without surgery. In other words, waiting too long often means that surgery is the only way to treat this condition.

Now, the following condition almost never requires medical intervention. However, it can still be annoying and painful…

4. Ingrown Toenails

What are ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails occur when the skin around the corner of the toe grows around the nail. It is one of the most common causes of foot pain.

How do ingrown nails happen?

Ingrown nails are often the result of trimming the nails too short or not cutting them straight across. However, trauma to the toenail can also cause this condition. For whatever reason, the big toe is more likely to be afflicted than the other toes.

What are the symptoms of ingrown nails?

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Severe pain

What are risk factors for ingrown nails?

Some risk factors for this condition include:

  • Infection
  • Not cutting the nails straight across
  • Trauma to the nail
  • Cutting the nails too short
  • Diabetes
  • Wearing ill-fitting shoes

How are ingrown nails managed?

Fortunately, most ingrown toenails can be treated at home. For example, soaking the foot in warm water and applying antibiotic ointments can help reduce pain and the potential for infection. If worse comes to worst, though, consult your doctor; antibiotics may be necessary.

The best way to prevent ingrown toenails? Proper nail-trimming technique and wearing shoes that fit well. The following causes of foot pain are also fortunately easy enough to treat at home…

3. Corns and Calluses

What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are common and can be everything from annoying to painful. Both are thick, hardened areas of skin that have developed as a result of friction or pressure. There are, however, a few differences between the two that are worth noting.

What do corns look and feel like?

Corns are smaller than calluses and are surrounded by inflamed skin. They can be quite painful but are not dangerous.

What do calluses look and feel like?

Calluses come in all different shapes and sizes. Fortunately, they do not usually cause pain.

What are the risk factors?

The following are associated with increased risk of developing corns and calluses:

  • Wearing improper shoes
  • Staying on the feet all day
  • Not wearing socks with shoes
  • Being a woman
  • Having another foot issue

How are these conditions treated?

Luckily, these conditions are easy to treat at home. One easy solution? Soak the feet in warm soapy water to help soften the built-up skin.

There is no reason to see a doctor for corns and calluses unless the discomfort interferes with daily life. The following condition, however, does require close medical supervision or severe complications can occur…

2. Diabetic Neuropathy

What is diabetic neuropathy?

Diabetes is a formidable disease in which the body is unable regulate its own blood sugar (glucose) levels. Consequently, glucose levels can wildly fluctuate, damaging multiple systems of the body. The resulting nerve damage is called diabetic neuropathy.

What are the signs of diabetic neuropathy?

When it affects the feet, diabetic neuropathy symptoms can include:

  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Difficulty walking

How is this condition managed?

Unfortunately, once this condition damages nerves, the damage cannot be undone. That makes prevention key. Specifically, controlling diabetes is key to avoiding diabetic neuropathy in the first place or preventing it from getting worse.

Some specific ways to manage this condition include:

  • Monitoring blood sugar
  • Not smoking
  • Losing weight (if overweight)
  • Attending physical therapy
  • Taking medications
  • Wearing supportive shoes and specialized inserts
  • Checking the feet daily for sores, swelling, blisters, or similar problems

The following condition is incredibly hard to spot without medical testing. In fact, roughly half of the people with the following condition don’t even feel pain at all…

1. Bone Spurs

What are bone spurs?

Bone spurs are abnormal, extra growths of bone found in areas damaged by trauma. They most often occur in joints. In the feet, they tend to form in the toes and the mid-foot area, although they can occur in other locations, too.

What do bone spurs feel like?

No two people feel bone spurs the same way. Some people can feel bone spurs through the skin; they will feel like hard little bumps or protrusions. Others may experience pain, swelling, redness, and stiffness in the top-middle section of their foot.

Still others may be asymptomatic, showing no signs of discomfort of the condition for years. For some, the symptoms are so severe that they impede the ability to walk.

What are the risk factors?

Risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Tight and/or ill-fitting shoes
  • Obesity/being overweight
  • Osteoarthritis

How is this condition managed?

The best way to manage bone spurs? Rest the area and find comfortable, well-fitting shoes. While over-the-counter pain relievers help many people, persistent and/or severe pain may require corticosteroid shots or even surgery.

What’s the next step?…

Getting Back on Your Feet

Foot pain is no fun. Finding out the specific cause of what is ailing you, however, is the first step to getting better and managing your condition.

Prevention is the best medicine.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of foot pain—no matter the specific cause. Some of the best preventative measures include:

  • Wearing comfortable shoes
  • Using specialized sole inserts
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing pre-existing conditions like diabetes or arthritis
  • Changing up regular exercise routines

Manage current foot pain properly.

Of course, saying “prevention is the best medicine” doesn’t help if you’re already suffering from foot pain. Some easy at-home ways to manage foot pain properly include:

  • Icing the affected area
  • Staying off the affected foot and rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Compressing the affected area

When is medical attention necessary?

Any concerns should be directed at a medical professional. This is especially true if pain persists or is severe.

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