Foot Pain Diagnosis

Accurate foot pain diagnosis is essential in order to decide what the best treatment options are for your foot, ankle or toe pain.  Without it, treatment tends to be general rather than specifically targeted to your problem, and whilst the pain may settle down in the short term, it is likely to return at some point.

This guide goes through the different parts of the foot, ankle and toes and looks at the problems that can cause pain in each of these areas to help you with diagnosing foot pain.  Pain can often radiate to more than one part of the foot, but start by thinking where your biggest area of pain is, or where it started and go from there. 

You can find out more about each specific area by clicking on the relevant links. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and any new incidence of pain should be assessed by your doctor.

Pain that is mostly on the top of the foot, possibly extending into the toes is often caused by wearing inappropriate footwear.  Shoes that are narrow or tight place excess pressure on the bones, muscles, tendons and nerves on the top of the foot where there is little padding. 

Top of foot pain is often caused by damage to the muscles, tendons or nerves running along the top of the foot

Repetitive overuse from activities like running, jumping and kicking is also a common cause of top of foot pain.  This can lead to small breaks in the bone (stress fractures) or inflammation and degeneration in the muscles and tendons (tendonitis).  There may also be a problem with the positioning of the bones which places excess stress on the surrounding structures. A heavy impact onto the top of the foot can result in a bone fracture or damage to the tendons on the top of the foot.

To find out more about the most common causes of pain on the top of the foot and how to treat them, visit the Top of Foot Pain diagnosis section.

Foot pain can also occur on the inner or outer side of the foot and toes and may come on gradually over time or very suddenly.

Inversion injuries of result in side of foot pain from a ligament sprain

Side foot pain which develops slowly over time is often caused by repetitive activities causing problems such as tendonitis or stress fractures.  Pain that comes on suddenly following an injury, particularly if you have rolled over on the ankle is usually a result of a ligament sprain and if outer foot pain continues for a number of months after a sprain, you may also be suffering from the often mis-diagnosed Cuboid Syndrome.

Adolescents with side of foot pain may be suffering from tarsal coalition, whereas people over the age of 50 may instead have symptoms of arthritis.

Skin irritation is another common cause of side of foot pain be it from blisters or calluses/corns and a lump aroud the big toe is usually due to a bunion. These problems all tend to stem from poor footwear.

Find out more about these common problems in the Side of Foot Pain diagnosis section.

Pain underneath the foot or in the foot arch is particularly common in people who spend long periods on their feet.  The arches of the foot are formed by the way the foot bones are supported by various muscles, ligaments and tendons and they control how forces are transmitted through the foot.  Pain on the bottom of the foot often results from a problem in the position of the foot arches e.g. having flat feet.

Foot Arch Pain

Muscle weakness, tightness or overloading often causes pain along the bottom of the foot.  They may result in damage to the soft tissues such as plantar fasciitis or tendonitis, or damage to the bones such as stress fractures.

Poor foot hygiene can also lead to conditions such as Trench Foot and Athletes Foot affecting the bottom of the foot.

To find out more about the 10 most common causes of pain on the bottom of the foot, Visit the Arch Foot Pain diagnosis section.

Pain in the toes most commonly involves the big toe and often affects our daily activities such as walking. 

It may be that there is a problem with the position of the toe bones such as with hammer/mallet/claw toe, bunions and arthritis. Alternatively, sporting activities may put undue stress through the toes leading to problems such as Turf Toe and Tennis Toe.  It may be that there is a problem with the nerves supplying the toes like Morton's Neuroma, or it may be a soft-tissue problem such as blisters or ingrown toe nails.

You can find out about these and other common causes in the toe joint pain section.

Heel pain usually occurs either at the back of the heel or underneath the heel.  Our heels absorb most of the force going through our feet so it is a common place to get foot pain. 

Heel pain may occur at the back of or underneath the heel.  Thinking about the location of your pain can help make an accurate foot pain diagnosis

Heel pain may originate from the muscles and tendons, such as Achilles Tendonitis or Plantar Fasciitis or the bone itself such as stress fractures or bone spurs

Foot pain diagnosis for heel pain should take into account muscle length and strength, foot biomechanics and any previous injuries to the foot.  Heel pain is rarely serious and usually settles down in a few weeks to months, often with simple exercises. 

To find out more about the most common causes of heel pain, visit the Heel Foot Pain diagnosis section.

Problems in the calf muscles often cause knee, calf and foot pain.

Calf pain is often linked to foot and knee problems and is usually a result of a problem in the calf muscle. 

It may be due to muscle weakness or tightness or from poor foot positions.  It can also be caused by problems in the neural or vascular structures in the lower leg.

To find out more about calf pain, visit the Calf Pain Diagnosis section on our sister site about knee pain.

Why Is Foot Pain Diagnosis Important?

Accurate foot pain diagnosis is such an important part of treatment and recovery from foot and ankle pain. 

Let me give you an example.  You have pain in your foot so you rest it and ice it for a few days, take some painkillers and ease off the exercise.  After a few weeks, it feels better so you go back to your usual activities but then the pain returns.  Because you never found out  why it started to cause pain in the first place (e.g. muscle imbalance or altered foot biomechanics), you didn’t treat it properly (e.g. exercises or shoe orthotics). 

Effective treatment of any problem relies not on simply treating the SYMPTOM of the problem e.g. instability or pain but at treating the underlying CAUSE of the problem e.g. muscle imbalance or poor foot biomechanics.

By thinking about the location of your foot pain, we can help you work out what your problem is and find out the best way to treat it - simply choose from the links above.  Alternatively, visit the Foot Symptom Guide to use your symptoms to help you work out what is wrong.

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See Also

Common Causes of Foot Pain

Diagnose Your Pain

Foot & Ankle Anatomy

Treatment Options for Foot Problems

Visitor Comments

"Thank you so much! Your website is a fountain of information! I was worrying about top of foot pain, and your suggestions for strengthening and stretching are helping immensely."
Retha, US

"Your info took me straight to the problem. Well described and clearly explained."
Rick, US

"Thanks for having these exercises available! I performed a few and they have helped tremendously with my foot pain."
Jennifer, UK

"Thank you for this information, it is very useful."
Seluleko, Zimbabwe

"Some really good suggestions and information"
Denise, US

"I have suffered these symptoms for over a year seen two doctors and a physio. None of them diagnosed this. Hope its not too late to put your advice into practice." Lezlee, UK

"Certainly it has helped me to understand and educate me on the issue."
Madhuri, India

"Very interesting! All good information. Tried a few stretches, already feels good."
Cindy, US