Foot pain symptoms vary depending on the underlying problems. The foot is made up of a complex arrangement of bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves. Problems in any of these structures can lead to pain, weakness, stiffness and abnormal sensations. The type of symptoms, location and severity can help us work out what structures are at fault.
Here you will find an overview of the most common foot pain symptoms people experience. We will start by looking at the symptoms associated with injuries to the various structures of the foot such as bones and soft tissues and then go on to look at specific foot and ankle pain symptoms such as burning pain and swelling. If you want to find out more about the specific symptoms, click on the links provided.
Foot pain symptoms often develop in response to an injury. The type and location of pain can give an indication as to what structures have been damaged.
The bones in the foot and leg can be damaged through an injury resulting in a break in the bone, such as a stress fracture, or through wear and tear. Foot pain symptoms from bone problems tend to be localised and may feel like an intense ache, similar to toothache, often accompanied by bruising and/or swelling. In some cases, you may not be able to bear any weight through the affected foot.
The nerves of the leg and foot run from the lower back and travel down the legs to the feet. Nerves are responsible for sending signals to and from the brain with regards to movement and sensation. If a nerve is injured or squashed, these signals are interrupted and fire abnormally resulting in pain, weakness or abnormal sensations such as pins and needles or numbness in the leg and foot. You can find out more in the Foot Nerve Pain section.
Muscles are elastic structures that contract and relax to allow movement. They work in pairs, one set contracting whilst the other relaxes to ensure controlled movement. If the muscles don't do-ordinate properly, you can develop cramp. Muscles can be damaged by being over stretched, such as with a calf strain, over worked, which causes tendonitis or squashed. Foot pain symptoms from muscle problems often present as an achy pain which is worse with activity and better for rest.
These include ligaments and tendons which tend to be damaged by sudden over-stretching such as with an ankle sprain. Foot pain symptoms from soft tissue injuries tend to be pain (ranging from mild to severe depending on the extent of the injury), inflammation and bruising. There may also be long term instability and stiffness once the initial symptoms have subsided.
Burning foot pain in one or both feet are most commonly due to nerve damage. This can be from a problem anywhere along the length of the nerve from the lower back to the toes. The nerve may be being squashed e.g. by a slipped disc or Morton’s Neuroma, or the blood supply to the nerve may be affected as with peripheral vascular disease.
Other less common causes of burning foot pain symptoms may be due to syndromes such as Burning Feet Syndrome, commonly accompanied by redness in the foot or Chronic Regional Pain syndrome which usually develops after an injury resulting in extreme burning pain, swelling and changes in skin temperature. Another possibility is Metatarsalgia, where there is inflammation of the foot bones and soft tissues that causes the gradual onset of burning pain underneath the foot and big toe.
You can find out more about these different conditions in the Burning Foot Pain section.
Runners often suffer from foot and ankle pain both during when running and afterwards. Running foot pain symptoms may come on as soon as you start running, part way through or not until after you've finished depending on the cause. Most of the time, the cause is linked to a combination of altered foot biomechanics, over-training, previous injuries, a problem in the bones or may even be as simple as wearing the wrong shoes.
You can find out all about the most common causes, including the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment in the foot and ankle pain running section.
Another common foot symptom is numbness which may affect one or both feet. The most common cause is a problem somewhere along the nerve which prevents signals from travelling to and from the brain resulting in a decrease or complete loss of sensation in part of the foot. Walking can be affected as you may not be able to feel your foot touching the floor or you may not be able to feel any sensations through the foot such as light/deep or blunt/sharp pressure or hot and cold sensations. Numbness may be short-lived such as when your foot “falls asleep” after sitting awkwardly or more long term.
Other causes of foot numbness include decreased blood supply to the foot or certain medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
You can find out more about these causes in the Numb Feet section.
Most foot problems are accompanied by some type of pain. In most cases, pain is fairly localised to the problem area giving us a good idea of where the problem originate. In the diagnosis section, we look at the symptoms affecting the different parts of the foot such as heel pain and foot arch pain and what conditions tend to cause them – visit the foot pain diagnosis section to find out more.
Foot pain that is more widespread or accompanied by other abnormal sensations is often a result of nerve damage and can result in foot pain symptoms anywhere down the length of the nerve from the lower back to the toes. You can find out more in the Foot Nerve Pain section.
Foot and ankle swelling are common foot pain symptoms from a variety of sources. Swelling that comes on suddenly may be the result of an injury and tends to be fairly localised and affecting one foot. There are also a number of medical conditions that can result in foot swelling due to excessive water retention such as heart and liver problems. Swelling and redness of the big toe is often a result of gout. Cellulitis causes foot pain symptoms of swelling, redness and heat that spread up the leg often making the skin appear shiny.
You can find out more about these and other causes of foot swelling including how to know when it may be serious in the foot and ankle swelling section.
Foot rashes can develop for a whole host of reasons. Small, red bumps may develop due to an allergic reaction to an irritant such as chemicals or certain plants, or from a viral infection such as hand, foot and mouth disease. A dry, scaly skin rash may be due to eczema or a bacterial infection such as Athlete’s Foot.
You can find out more about foot pain symptoms from these and other causes of skin rashes in the foot rash section.
Foot pain symptoms of cramp can be extremely unpleasant, even though they are not usually serious. The muscles tighten uncontrollably causing intense pain making it difficult to move. Often, the cause of foot and leg cramps is unknown but links have been found to things such as a lack of certain vitamins and minerals, dehydration, lack of exercise and some medical conditions.
You can find out more about the most common causes of muscle cramps and how to treat them in the Foot Cramp section.
There are some other foot pain symptoms that are less common:
1) Cold Feet: May be the result of nerve damage or blood circulation problems such as Raynaud’s Disease
2) Colour Changes: The foot may change colour. Redness may indicate an infection such as cellulitis, a blood clot or Erythromelalgia. Blue toes (clinically referred to as cyanosis) tends to be caused by decrease oxygen levels usually due to poor circulation from medical conditions such as heart disease, Blue Toe Syndrome or exposure to extreme cold. Any changes in skin colour should be examined by a doctor as they may indicate an underlying medical condition
3) Blisters: Blisters on the feet are usually caused by friction, but can be a result of prolonged exposure to heat or cold, chemicals or from a medical condition such as chicken pox. You can find out more about the most common causes and how to treat them in the foot blister section.
You can find out more about each of the foot pain symptoms and what is causing them by clicking on the relevant links above. If you need some more help working out what is causing your foot pain symptoms, visit the diagnosis section.
Please remember, this information is intended as a guide and should not substitute or delay you from seeking medical advice.
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