Causes of Foot Pain and Treatment Options

The foot is a complex intersection of numerous muscles, bones, and ligaments that work together to enable you to stand and walk. Occasionally, an issue with one of these anatomical structures leads to pain and puts limitations on your daily function.

This article will review the common causes of foot pain, the most frequent accompanying symptoms, and the treatments that are available.

Foot pain

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Symptoms of Foot Pain

Pain in your foot may be the first thing that alerts you to a potential problem. However, it is rarely the only symptom. Other coinciding complaints might include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Discomfort when putting on a shoe
  • Bruising
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty walking or bearing weight
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations
  • Visible deformity of the foot or toe

Paying close attention to these symptoms and alerting your healthcare provider to them can help you identify the root cause of your pain and find the appropriate treatments.

Causes of Foot Pain

Because of the complex makeup of the foot, there are numerous conditions that can cause pain to develop in this region. Among the most common are:

  • Heel spurs are small growths of excess bone that develop along the edge of the bottom of the heel in response to strain in this area. While anyone can get a bone spur, people who are overweight, wear poor-fitting shoes, or participate in high-impact activities (like running) may be at a higher risk. Some heel spurs are asymptomatic (no symptoms), though others can cause sharp pain on the bottom of the foot when you get up after sitting or after a long day of activity.
  • A bunion is a bony deformity that causes your big toe to turn toward the second toe. This problem develops slowly and may be caused by frequently wearing pointed or poorly fitting shoes, though genetics can also play a role. Over time, bunions lead to the development of a hard bump or protrusion at the base of the big toe along with pain, redness, and stiffness in the area. The condition can also make it difficult to find comfortable-fitting shoes.
  • Hammertoes are a type of deformity affecting the second, third, fourth, or fifth toes. This slowly developing problem causes one or several of these toes to arch or bend downward from their middle joint. Hammertoes can cause pain or swelling in the toe and make it difficult to walk. The toe may also begin to rub on the top of your shoe, developing a hard callus (called a corn).
  • Morton’s neuroma occurs when benign tissue begins to build up around the nerves that run in between the long (metatarsal) bones of the foot. The issue is thought to be caused by excessive pressure or friction in the region and most commonly affects the area between the third and fourth toes. This noncancerous condition leads to numbness, tingling, or burning in the toes, along with pain or swelling in the foot. Most common thing people say is that it feels like a bunched up sock, but when they look at your sock its normal.
  • Plantar fasciitis arises when inflammation or microtears develop in the tissue traveling from the heel to the base of the toes (called the plantar fascia). This structure helps maintain the height of the foot’s arch and absorbs the forces that travel through this area. People with this condition often complain of pain on the inside portion of the bottom of the heel and extending into the foot’s arch. The symptoms are usually worst first thing in the morning or after a long period of sitting.
  • Osteoarthritis is a thinning or degeneration of the smooth, slippery cartilage that coats the ends of the bones in the foot. This condition can affect any of the 33 joints in this region, though it is most common in the first metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the big toe (called hallux rigidus). Osteoarthritis most frequently leads to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected area. It is often worse when getting up after a period of inactivity and better as you get warmed up and move around during the day.
  • Fractures are breaks or cracks in one of the 26 bones in the foot. This problem can arise suddenly after an acute injury or gradually as a result of repetitive or excessive forces (called stress fractures). Depending on the severity of the condition, fractures can cause significant pain, swelling, bruising, or even a visible deformity in the foot. Fractures can also make walking challenging or even bearing weight on the foot.
  • Gout is an extremely painful condition that occurs when uric acid crystals build up in one of the body’s joints. This issue usually arises without warning and usually affects the joint at the base of the big toe. It commonly leads to severe pain, sensitivity, swelling, and redness in this area. Gout can also make it very uncomfortable to put on a sock or shoe and difficult to walk normally. Bedsheets can even cause pain.

How to Treat Foot Pain

Foot pain can be treated with a wide array of interventions and depend on the underlying cause and severity of the problem.

At-Home Options

Changing your footwear so that it is less constrictive or more supportive can be helpful when dealing with bunions, hammertoes, osteoarthritis, Morton’s neuroma, or plantar fasciitis. Activity modification, applying ice to the affected area, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be useful for mild pain associated with heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, or osteoarthritis.

Conservative Treatments


Physical therapy is frequently prescribed to teach you strengthening and stretching techniques that help the symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis and osteoarthritis. In the case of gout, prescription medication meant to lower uric acid levels and pain-relieving steroid medications are often needed. Corticosteroid injections may also be used for more severe osteoarthritis cases, Morton’s neuroma, or heel spurs.

Surgical Interventions

In some cases, a procedure may be needed. More advanced bunions or hammertoes may need to be corrected surgically, and some heel spurs or neuromas may also need to be arthroscopically removed (minimally invasive surgical procedure). In addition, fractures that are unstable or do not heal with conservative treatment frequently need surgery.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Foot Pain?

The first step to diagnosing your foot pain is a comprehensive evaluation by a physician. Many problems like Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, bunions, and hammertoes can be easily identified after a thorough examination.

Imaging may also be useful. X-rays are frequently needed to identify osteoarthritis, heel spurs, or fractures. Occasionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also needed to visualize structures in the foot when identifying a fracture or a neuroma. Finally, in the case of gout, a blood draw may be necessary to assess uric acid levels in your bloodstream.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

At-home remedies like icing and OTC medication may be useful for treating mild foot pain, but there are some instances in which it is important to be examined by a healthcare provider. These include:

  • Severe or worsening pain
  • Pain that occurs after an acute injury
  • Inability to walk or bear weight through the affected foot
  • Instability or visible deformity of the foot.
  • Swelling, bruising, or warmth in the ankle or foot

The presence of any of these symptoms could indicate a more significant condition and should be reported to your healthcare provider without delay. Doing so can help expedite your treatment and more quickly alleviate your pain.

Summary

A wide variety of conditions can lead to foot pain. This includes more chronic concerns like osteoarthritis or bunions and more acute issues like gout or a fracture. Depending on your diagnosis, treatments like icing, over-the-counter medications, injections, and even surgeries may be needed to address your symptoms. A thorough medical exam is the first step to diagnosing the cause of your pain.

A Word From Verywell

Foot pain can make every step you take agonizing and interrupt your ability to function normally. While it may be tempting to ignore your symptoms, doing so can prolong your pain and extend the time it takes to get it under control. If you have foot pain, difficulty walking, or any other symptoms discussed above, be sure to discuss your concerns with a trusted medical provider. This first step is the quickest route to discovering the root cause and alleviating your pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is my foot pain from gout?

    Gout-related pain typically comes on quickly and is usually (but not always) located in the big toe. It is commonly accompanied by redness, warmth, or swelling and can make the area very sensitive. In addition, walking or even wearing a sock is frequently very uncomfortable.

  • How do I get rid of my plantar fasciitis?

    Supportive shoes or specially made inserts called orthotics can help alleviate plantar fasciitis pain. Consistent stretching of the calf and foot and building strength in these structures is also important. In addition, maintaining a healthy body weight can alleviate some of the strain and soreness in this important area of the foot.

  • Do I need surgery for my bunion?

    Many bunions are able to be treated without an operation. Switching to a shoe with a wider toe box and incorporating padding into it can help reduce the pressure on the affected area. Toe spacers or splints may help alleviate the pain, although they do not permanently correct the deformity. Shoes that are made of a material that expands are also helpful as they cause less pressure on skin.

    Surgery is only indicated for bunion pain that is not relieved by these conservative interventions.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Foot pain and problems.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Bunions.

  3. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Hammer toe.

  4. American Academy of Family Physicians. Plantar fasciitis.

  5. Becker BA, Childress MA. Common foot problems: over-the-counter treatments and homecare. American Family Physician. 2018;98(5):298-303.

By Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS
Tim Petrie, DPT, OCS, is a board-certified orthopedic specialist who has practiced as a physical therapist for more than a decade.