Foot Pain and Other Problems

Anatomy of the foot

The foot is one of the most complex parts of the body, consisting of 26 bones connected by numerous joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The foot is susceptible to many stresses. Foot problems can cause pain, inflammation, or injury, resulting in limited movement and mobility.

What are the different types of foot problems?

Foot pain is often caused by improper foot function. Improperly fitted shoes can worsen and, in some cases, cause foot problems. Shoes that fit properly and give good support can prevent irritation to the foot joints and skin. There are many types of foot problems that affect the heels, toes, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and joints of the foot.

The symptoms of foot problems may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What is foot pain?

Foot pain can be debilitating to an active lifestyle. Foot pain can have many sources, from fractures and sprains to nerve damage. Listed below are three common areas of pain in the foot and their causes:

  • Pain in the ball of the foot. Pain in the ball of the foot, located on the bottom of the foot behind the toes, may be caused by nerve or joint damage in that area. In addition, a benign (noncancerous) growth, such as Morton's neuroma, may cause the pain. Corticosteroid injections and wearing supportive shoe inserts may help relieve the pain. Sometimes, surgery is necessary.
  • Plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is characterized by severe pain in the heel of the foot, especially when standing up after resting. The condition is due to an overuse injury of the sole surface (plantar) of the foot and results in inflammation of the fascia, a tough, fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes.

    Plantar fasciitis is more common in women, people who are overweight, people with occupations that require a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces, people with flat feet, and people with high arches. Walking or running, especially with tight calf muscles, may also cause the condition.  Treatment may include:
    • Rest
    • Ice pack applications
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
    • Stretching exercises of the Achilles tendons and plantar fascia
  • Achilles tendon injury. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. However, this tendon is also the most common site of rupture or tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse.

    Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse of the tendon and calf muscles. Symptoms may include mild pain after exercise that worsens gradually, stiffness that disappears after the tendon warms up, and swelling. Treatment may include:
    • Rest
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
    • Supportive devices and/or bandages for the muscle and tendon
    • Stretching
    • Massage
    • Ultrasound
    • Strengthening exercises
    • Surgery

What are heel spurs?

A heel spur is a bone growth on the heel bone. It is usually located on the underside of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. This connective tissue holds the arch together and acts as a shock absorber during activity. If the plantar fascia is overstretched from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes, or being overweight, pain can result from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone. Over time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress resulting in heel spurs. Treatment options may include:

  • Rest
  • Cold packs
  • Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
  • Proper stretching prior to activity
  • Proper footwear or shoe inserts
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery (for more severe, prolonged conditions)

What is a corn?

Corns are yellowish, callus growths that develop on top of the toes. Corns develop because of abuse or stress. Often, a corn develops where a toe rubs against a shoe or another toe. Corns can cause extreme discomfort and pain. Treatment may include:

  • Trimming the corn by shaving the layers of dead skin
  • Applying pads around the corn area
  • Wearing larger shoes to comfortably fit your foot without rubbing
  • Surgery

To avoid corn development, always purchase footwear that fits properly.

What is Morton's neuroma?

Morton's neuroma is a buildup of benign (noncancerous) tissue in the nerves running between the long bones of the foot. Morton's neuroma occurs when two bones rub together and squeeze the nerve between them. Most often, neuromas develop between the bones leading to the third and fourth toes. Morton's neuroma often causes swelling, tenderness, and pain. If the pain becomes severe, it may cause tingling, numbness, and burning in the toes. It usually occurs after standing or walking for a long period of time. Treatment for this condition may involve rest and/or a change in footwear that does not restrict the foot. If the problem persists, cortisone injections and/or surgery may be considered.

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