Symptoms of foot pain can vary widely and are not always easy to diagnose. Foot pain could be caused by acute trauma (such as a broken or sprained ankle) or an overuse injury from exercise or sports. Foot pain also comes from systemic diseases like diabetes, nerve disorders or degenerative osteoarthritis. Mild to severe foot pain also can originate from simple, everyday habits including wearing shoes that are uncomfortable or lack support.
With an intricate system of 28 bones connected by numerous joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, the foot is one of the most complex parts of your body. Every day your feet bear your weight and withstand the shocks of overuse and abuse, repetitive actions, extreme situations, trauma, disease and the natural wear-and-tear of aging.
Common types of foot pain include:
- Plantar fasciitis - The main symptom of foot pain caused by plantar fasciitis is severe pain in the heel of your foot, especially when standing after resting. Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury of the plantar (sole surface) of your foot and results in inflammation of the fascia, a tough, fibrous band of tissue that connects your heel bone to the base of your toes. Rest, icing and exercises that help stretch the fascia are very effective in relieving the pain.
- Achilles tendon injury — The largest tendon in the human body and the one most often injured, your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. Achilles tendon injuries are common sports injuries caused by overuse of the tendon and calf muscles and can lead to tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon) or a ruptured or torn tendon that requires surgery.
- Pain in the ball of your foot — Located on the bottom of your foot behind your toes, this area can experience foot pain from nerve or joint damage or a benign (noncancerous) growth such as Morton's neuroma. Nonsurgical treatments can be very effective, but occasionally surgery may be necessary.
- Broken bones — Foot pain can originate from fractures in the ankle, heel, midfoot or toes and forefoot area and can range in severity from milder stress fractures (hairline fractures on the surface of the bone) that have no symptoms to displaced fractures that require surgery.
- Arthritis of the foot and ankle — Arthritis can cause painful inflammation of one or more of the 30-plus joints in your foot. Nearly half of people in their 60s and 70s have arthritis in the feet and/or ankle that may not yet cause symptoms of foot pain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis of the foot and ankle — Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints in any part of your body. Inflammation can become so severe that the joints of your foot and ankle become deformed. Ninety percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis eventually develop symptoms of foot and ankle pain.
- Diabetic foot — People with diabetes can experience multiple problems and complications of the disease in their feet as a systemic complication of high blood sugar levels. The condition, known as diabetic foot, is the result of nerve damage and circulation problems caused by diabetes.
- Peripheral vascular disease — Also known as hardening of the arteries, this common circulatory problem is the result of narrowed blood vessels and reduced blood flow to your legs and feet. Foot pain symptoms include a burning and aching pain while resting, especially at night, redness and sores that do not heal.
- Bunions — The common name for hallux valgus, a bunion is a protrusion of bone or tissue around the joint at the base of your great toe or little toe. More than just a bump, a bunion is a misalignment of the metatarsophalangeal joint. Left untreated, bunions can lead to arthritis or bursitis of the joint.
- Hammertoe — Commonly caused by shoes that are too tight in the toe area or shoes that have high heels, hammertoe is the unnatural bending of your toe in a hammer or claw-like position. Changing to better-fitting shoes in the early stages of hammertoe can prevent the need for surgery.
Treatment options depend on the specific cause of foot pain. Due to the foot's intricate system of bones, joints, ligaments and tendons, it is best to consult an orthopaedic specialist for an accurate diagnosis and comprehensive plan for successfully treating the underlying cause.