Asking why your feet hurt is like asking why Rose didn’t just make room for Jack on the doorframe at the end of Titanic: a frustrating, open-ended question that we could talk about for hours.
Thankfully, we’re not afraid of a challenge (and we also like to talk), so we’ve rounded up some of the most common causes of foot pain and suggested a few solutions to boot.
Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have an answer to your painful feet and can get back to writing that strongly worded open letter to James Cameron.
What’s The Problem?
Foot pain is incredibly common. In fact, according to the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS), a massive 80% of women have foot problems.¹ It’s a significant issue, but actually not too surprising if you think about it since we put an incredible amount of pressure on our feet every day.
It’s important to note that foot pain shouldn’t be ignored and can often be a symptom of a larger underlying condition. If your foot pain is persistent, be sure to speak to your doctor about it. That said, here are a few of the more common reasons you could be feeling discomfort:
One of the most common causes of foot pain, Plantar Fasciitis results from irritation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes.² This condition commonly causes pain across the bottom of the foot near the inner part of the heel.
Simple exercises like stretching, strengthening and balancing can help relieve the pain and inflammation. For more serious cases, physical therapy is recommended.
Firm, painful bumps that develop at the base of the big toe, bunions are a common problem that are often caused or made worse by wearing shoes that are too tight.³ They become painful when shoes rub against them and trigger more inflammation, swelling and redness.
The solution? Simply ensure that your shoes are the correct size for your feet. You might also want to consider limiting the wear of pointy toed shoes or other shoe styles with narrow or closed toe boxes.
The muscles in our toes work in pairs, but when one of these muscles is stronger than the other, the resulting imbalance can cause a hammertoe. The toe becomes crooked and sticks up at the joint.⁴
This can be caused by an injury, wearing shoes that don’t fit your feet or can even be genetic. Wearing comfortable shoes with proper support and the addition of pressure relieving insoles or inserts can prevent or relieve the issue.
Throbbing on the side of your big toe accompanied by redness and swelling could be a sign that you’ve got an ingrown toenail. When the nail edge grows into the skin of the toe, the pressure can cause some serious discomfort.
If you have a radiating pain that feels as if you’re standing on a pebble, Morton’s neuroma could be the culprit. When certain bones in your feet are compressed—often by tight and/or high heeled shoes—the pressure on the surrounding nerves can cause a stabbing pain.⁵
The easiest way to experience relief is by avoiding uncomfortable shoes and massaging the top and bottom of your feet as well as the spaces between your toes. If the pain persists, your doctor might recommend scheduling an x-ray to get to the root of the problem.
Posterior Tibial Tendonitis
Running down the inner lower leg and attaching to the bottom of the foot, the posterior tibialis tendon supports your foot’s natural arch. Irritation can cause limited walking ability and even flatfoot deformity.
Suggested treatment includes stretching exercises, anti-inflammatory supplements/medication and orthotics.
Like posterior tibialis tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis results from irritation and inflammation when the tendon is overused.⁶ Runners and high heel wearers are the most likely to experience this issue.
If you feel any pain in your Achilles—which attaches your heel bone to the back of your foot—avoid any activities that could aggravate it and be sure to rest, ice the area and take anti-inflammatories if needed.
Common in soccer players, turf toe is a sprain at the base of the big toe, which occurs when it bends back beyond its normal range of motion. Kicking a soccer ball or banging your toe can cause a tear in the ligaments that support it, resulting in pain and toe cramping.
Treatment involves managing the inflammation to allow healing and the restoration of normal mobility.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Essentially the foot version of carpal tunnel syndrome, tarsal tunnel syndrome happens when the main nerve running towards the foot is compressed by bone of tissue.
This problem causes shooting, burning and tingling pains that are felt on the inside of the foot.
A consultation with a podiatrist or physical therapist is generally recommended for this issue.
A Strain or Sprain
If you’re particularly active, you’ve probably experienced foot or ankle pain at some point before or after exercising. This occurs when the ligaments, muscles or tendons are overstretched, causing pain and inflammation.
It’s important to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard if you’re feeling discomfort. Rest, ice, compression, relaxation and pain relief are the steps you need to take to alleviate pain.
As we mentioned, foot pain can also be a signal that there’s something larger going on, which is why it’s important to always get things checked out, if you’re unsure.
Blockages of your arteries caused by plaque or fatty deposits can often produce symptoms in your feet first.
These buildups cause arteries to narrow or harden, restricting blood flow to the legs and feet. The result is foot pain, which is actually signaling a more widespread problem.
One of the more common causes of foot issues, diabetes can cause serious pain, swelling, numbness, neuropathy, calluses, dryness and open sores on the feet.
These problems are typically caused by nerve damage or a lack of oxygen and should be treated immediately.
Dry skin and brittle toenails are common complaints, but if they don’t respond to treatment with moisturizers and nail oil, then hypothyroidism could be the root cause. An underactive thyroid can cause rough skin and weak nails, particularly on your feet. If this is the case, the underlying issue needs to be treated, not just the symptoms.
A chronic inflammation disorder, arthritis can cause bones to deviate and feel swollen and stiff. Feeling the effects in your hands and feet is common, and if you suspect arthritis might be the cause of your foot pain, head to a rheumatologist to get checked out.
Actually another form of arthritis, gout indicates that your kidneys aren’t functioning correctly and are unable to break down uric acid, commonly found in meat, seafood and rich sauces.⁷When the urate crystals harden, they lodge in the coldest part of the body, which is typically the big toe joint and this can cause redness, swelling and sensitivity.
We rely on our feet to take us through life, which is why it’s so important to treat any issues as soon as they arise (and preferably beforehand). Make sure you pay regular attention to how your feet look and feel, and hopefully you’ll be skipping through the day without pain or other problems.