The foot is one of the most complex parts of the body. It is made up of 26 bones connected by many joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The foot is susceptible to many stresses. Foot problems can cause pain, inflammation, or injury. These problems can result in limited movement and mobility.
Foot pain is often caused by improper foot function. Poorly fitting 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 look like other medical conditions and problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
1. 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:
- Cold packs
- Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
- Proper stretching before activity
- Proper footwear or shoe inserts
- Corticosteroid injections
- Surgery (for more severe, prolonged conditions)
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
To avoid corn development, always buy shoes that fit properly.
A bunion is a protrusion of bone or tissue around a joint. Bunions may occur at the base of the great toe or at the base of the little toe, and often occur when the joint is stressed over a period of time. Women get bunions more often than men do because they may wear tight, pointed, and confining shoes. Bunions can also be a result of arthritis, which often affects the big toe joint.
Treatment of bunions may vary depending on the pain and deformity. Treatment may include:
- Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes (particularly shoes that conform to the shape of the foot and do not cause pressure areas)
- Surgery (for pain, not for cosmetic purposes)
- Applying pads to the affected area
- Medications, such as ibuprofen
A bunion, also known as hallux valgus, develops on the big toe joint when the bones of the big toe become misaligned. It looks like a large bump on the side of the toe. The big toe angles in toward the second toe, and, in severe cases, may overlap or tuck beneath the second toe. Bunions are more common in women than in men.
4. Morton neuroma
Morton neuroma is a buildup of benign (noncancerous) tissue in the nerves running between the long bones of the foot. Morton 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 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 or a change in footwear that does not restrict the foot. If the problem persists, cortisone injections or surgery may be considered.
This condition is a thickening of the nerve sheath that surrounds a nerve in the ball of the foot. It most commonly develops between the third and fourth toes. It also commonly occurs between the second and third toes.
A hammertoe is a condition in which the toe buckles, causing the middle joint of the affected toe to poke out. Tight-fitting shoes that put pressure on the hammertoe often aggravate this condition. Often a corn develops at this site. Treatment for hammertoes may include:
- Applying a toe pad specially positioned over the bony protrusion
- Changing your footwear to accommodate the deformed toe
- Surgical removal
This condition is a deformity in which a toe bends downward at the middle joint. The second toe is the one most likely to be affected, but this deformity can occur in other toes as well. Sometimes, more than one toe is affected.
6. Ankle sprain
An ankle sprain is an injury to the foot’s ligaments in the ankle. Ligaments are tough bands of elastic tissue that connect bones to each other. Ankle sprains may occur if the ankle rolls, turns, or twists beyond its normal range of motion. Ankle sprains may be caused by awkward foot placement, irregular surfaces, weak muscles, loose ligaments, or wearing shoes with spiked heels. The symptoms of a sprain will depend on how severely the ligaments are stretched or torn, but usually include swelling, pain, or bruising. Treatment will depend on the severity of the sprain, but may include:
- Resting the ankle
- Wrapping the ankle with elastic bandage or tape
- Ice pack application (to reduce inflammation)
- Elevating the ankle
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen to help reduce the pain and inflammation
- Gradual return to walking and exercise
- A walking cast (for moderate sprains)
- Surgery (for severe sprains)
- Physical therapy
Ligaments are fibrous, elastic bands of tissue that connect and stabilize the bones. An ankle sprain is a common, painful injury that occurs when one or more of the ankle ligaments is stretched beyond the normal range of motion. Sprains can occur as a result of sudden twisting, turning or rolling movements.