Causes of Foot Pain

Written By: Chloe Wilson - BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board

Common Causes of Foot Pain & Injuries and how to treat them

There are many causes of foot pain and around 20% of people will suffer from foot problems at some point in their lives.

Foot pain can have a major impact on our daily lives, so it is really important to find out what is causing the problem and start treatment as soon as possible.

Foot pain may come on gradually or suddenly, be linked to a specific injury or have no obvious cause at all. The main causes of foot pain come from:

Bones: e.g. bone spursbunions or stress fractures
Soft Tissues: muscles, ligaments and tendons e.g. ligament sprain or tendonitis
Medical Conditions: e.g. Gout or Trench Foot
Skin & Nail Problems: e.g. corns, eczema or ingrown toenails


Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles Tendonitis: a common cause of foot and calf pain. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment.

Inflammation and degeneration of the achilles tendon in the lower calf or back of the heel

Causes: Repetitive stress through the tendon, bone spurs, muscle imbalance

Symptoms: Pain, worse in the morning, thickened lump in tendon, stiffness

Full Article: Achilles Tendonitis


Blue Toe Syndrome

Blue Toe Syndrome: Causes foot pain and discoloration. Symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Reduction in blood flow to the feet causing reduced in oxygen and glucose levels

Causes: Blockages in small blood vessels from cholesterol crystals or plaque deposits

Symptoms: Sudden, intense pain, blue or red skin discoloration

Full Article: Blue Toe Syndrome


Bone Spurs

Bone Spurs are common causes of foot pain. Learn about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment options

Small, outgrowths of bone that can irritate the surrounding structures

Causes: Friction on the bone from overuse, muscle tightness or tight footwear

Symptoms: Hard lump, localised pain, stiffness, secondary problems e.g. callus formation & nerve irritation

Full Article: Bone Spurs


Bunions

Bunions cause toe deformity. Find out about common causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment options including how to avoid surgery

Deformity of the foot bones causing a hard lump and toe deviation

Causes: Genetics, tight footwear, flat feet

Symptoms: Gradual and progressive toe deviation and pain, hard lump, redness & inflammation

Full Article: Bunions & Bunionettes


Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease

Typical presentation of the foot with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease

A progressive neurological condition affecting the transmission of nerve signals

Causes: Genetic disease affecting protein production leading to nerve degeneration

Symptoms: Weakness and decreased sensation, altered foot position, curled toes

Full Article: Charcot Marie Tooth Disease


Corns & Calluses

Foot Corns & Calluses: Find out what they are, how they are different and how to treat them

Areas of thickened, hard, raised skin. Typically develop on the toes and heels

Causes: Friction, tight-fitting shoes, altered foot shape e.g. bunions, aging

Symptoms: Thickened, hardened patches. Calluses can be large but usually painless, corns tend to be small, circular and painful

Full Article: Foot Corns & Calluses


Cuboid Syndrome

Cuboid Syndrome: One of the causes of outer foot pain. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment options

Partial dislocation of the cuboid bone on the outer side of the foot. Rare cause of foot pain

Causes: Ankle sprain (inversion injury), repetitive jumping or running, flat feet

Symptoms: Pain on outside of foot, worse on initial movement and during push-off phase of walking/running

Full Article: Cuboid Syndrome


Eczema

Foot Eczema: Causes, treatment and prevention options

Inflammation and damage due to the skin being unable to retain moisture. Many different types e.g. atopic dermatitis

Causes: Hyper-sensitivity to allergens and irritants, lack of protein in the skin, genetics, stress, hot weather

Symptoms: Dry, itchy, red patches of skin, spots and blistering

Full Article: Foot Eczema


Foot Tendonitis

Tendonitis - Inflammation & Degeneration of the Foot Tendons: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Inflammation and degeneration in tendons, connective tissues linking muscle to bone

Causes: Overloading, over-stretching, flat feet, injury, inflammatory conditions

Symptoms: Sharp, burning pain, stiffness, swelling, hard lump

Full Article: Foot Tendonitis


Gout

Gout most commonly affects the foot. Check out these simple ways to prevent gout attacks

Joint inflammation from build-up of uric acid crystals - common causes of foot pain

Causes: Diet, medication, genetics, medical conditions, obesity

Symptoms: Intense pain, swelling and redness. Lasts 5-10 days and often recurs

Full Article: Foot Gout


Haglund's Deformity

Haglund's Deformity: Causes pain and swelling behind the heel. Symptoms, diagnosis & treatment options

Bony growth on back of the heel which irritates surrounding structures aka Pump Bump 

Causes: Rigid-backed shoes, high foot arches, calf tightness, genetics

Symptoms: Hard lump on back of heel, swelling, redness and pain around the achilles

Full Article: Haglund's Deformity


Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown Toenails: How to treat them and stop them coming back again

Edges of toenail curl in, pushing into the surrounding skin aka ungius incarnatus

Causes: Tight-fitting shoes, injury, incorrect toenail cutting technique, injury, genetics

Symptoms: Progressive redness, pain and inflammation, extra skin growth

Full Article: Ingrown Toenails


Ligament Sprain

Foot and Ankle Ligament Sprains: The most common ankle injury. Learn about common causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & prevention

Partial or full tear of one or more of the ankle ligaments. Most common ankle injury

Causes: Ligament is overstretched, typically from ankle twisting inwards when stumbling

Symptoms: Immediate pain and swelling, bruising, instability, popping noise

Full Article: Sprained Ankle


Mallet, Hammer & Claw Toe

Hammer, Mallet and Claw Toe are common deformities of the toes

Combinations of hyperflexion and hyperextension of the various toe joints

Causes: tight, narrow, high-heeled shoes, muscle tightness, nerve damage, genetics, poor blood supply

Symptoms: Abnormal toe position, pain, stiffness, skin damage e.g. calluses

Full Article: Toe Deformities


Os Trigonum Syndrome

Os Trigonum Foot Pain - Causes, symptoms & treatment options. Commonly affects ballet dancers & sportsmen

An extra piece of bone that gets stuck in the ankle when walking or pointing the foot

Causes: Bone fails to fuse in childhood and becomes symptomatic due to repetitive toe pointing movements or ankle injuries

Symptoms: Pain, swelling, tenderness and hard lump by achilles tendon

Full Article: Os Trigonum Syndrome


Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. Causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment information

Inflammation and damage to the thick band underneath the foot, the plantar fascia

Causes: Muscle tightness, flat feet, overuse, sudden increase in activity, poor foot wear

Symptoms: Pain on bottom of foot and around heel, worse when on tiptoes or when you start walking

Full Article: Plantar Fasciitis


Plantar Fibromatosis

Plantar Fibromatosis, aka Ledderhose Disease, causes foot pain in the sole. Causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Small, benign growth in the plantar fascia, underneath the arch of the foot

Causes: Genetics, diabetes, liver disease, alcoholism, epilepsy

Symptoms: Small nodule on the sole of the foot, painful when touched, toe stiffness

Full Article: Plantar Fibromatosis


Posterior Tibial Tendonitis

Inflammation and degeneration of the posterior tibial tendon on the inner ankle 

Causes: Ankle injury, repetitive strain, high-impact sports, unsupportive footwear

Symptoms: Pain inner ankle and under foot, unable to stand on tiptoes, foot arch collapses

Full Article: Posterior Tibial Tendonitis


Retrocalcaneal Bursitis

Heel Bursitis: Causes foot pain and swelling. Find out how to treat it fast.

Inflammation of the small fluid-filled sac at the back of the heel by achilles tendon

Causes: Over-training, footwear, bone spurs, muscle tightness, injury

Symptoms: Heel pain and tenderness, swelling, ankle stiffness

Full Article: Retrocalcaneal Bursitis


Sinus Tarsi Syndrome

Sinus Tarsi Syndrome: Ongoing pain after an ankle sprain? This may well be the problem

Inflammation in the sinus tarsi canal, a small tunnel between the heel bone and ankle bone

Causes: Ankle sprain, scar tissue, subtalar instability, flat feet

Symptoms: Deep pain, instability, stiffness, pain with ankle movements

Full Article: Sinus Tarsi Syndrome


Stress Fractures

Foot Stress Fractures: Common causes of foot pain. Find out about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis & treatment options

Small hair-line breaks in the bones, typically metatarsals, heel, shin & navicular

Causes: Repetitive over-loading e.g. from jumping or running, sudden increase in activity

Symptoms: Common causes of foot pain, worse with activity, swelling

Full Article: Stress Fractures


Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome causes foot pain, tingling and numbness underneath the foot and on the inner ankle. Learn about causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Compression of the posterior tibial nerve where it passes through the outer ankle

Causes: Reduced space in the tarsal tunnel e.g. bone spurs or cysts, oedema

Symptoms: Shooting/burning pain, tingling & numbness on inner ankle and under foot

Full Article: Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome


Tennis Toe

Tennis Toe aka Runners Toe or Subungual Hematoma: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Damage to the toe causes bleeding underneath the nail. AKA subungual hematoma 

Causes: Toe being forced against front of shoe e.g. runner suddenly stopping or changing direction, tight footwear

Symptoms: Throbbing pain, nail appears red/black. Usually affects big toe or second toe

Full Article: Tennis Toe


Trench Foot

Now a common feature at festivals, trench foot dates back to the awful conditions in the trenches in WW1

Painful foot condition dating back to the WW1 trenches now common at festivals

Causes: Prolonged exposure to damp, cold conditions reduces blood flow to feet

Symptoms: Feet turn grey, cold, heavy, prickly & numb

Full Article: Trench Foot


Turf Toe

Turf Toe: Sprain of the MTP joint of the big toe. Find out about common causes, symptoms, diagnosis & treatment

Sprain of the big toe. Ligaments and joint capsule damaged when toe bends back too far

Causes: Artificial surfaces, push-off phase of sprinting, falling forwards, tackle, jumping

Symptoms: Toe pain, swelling and bruising which gets gradually worse

Full Article: Turf Toe


How Common Are They?

Foot conditions and injuries are a common problem, particularly among sports enthusiasts. Around 20% of people will suffer from foot problems at least once in their lives. 

Anything involving running, jumping or kicking places a great deal of strain on the feet, and landing awkwardly from a fall are typical causes of foot pain from injuries.

Some causes of foot pain are more common than others:

Very Common: Achilles Tendonitis, Bunions, Corns & Calluses, Ligament SprainPlantarfasciitis, Stress Fractures

Common: Bone Spurs, Bursitis, Eczema, Gout, Hammer/Mallet/Claw Toe, Ingrown Toenail

Rare: Blue Toe Syndrome, Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease, Extensor TendonitisHaglund's Deformity, Os Trigonum Syndrome, Plantar Fibromatosis, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, Tennis ToeTrench Foot, Turf Toe

How Do I Know What Is Wrong?

When trying to work out the likely causes of foot pain, it helps to think about:

Location: where the pain mainly is e.g. top, bottom or side of the foot
Symptoms: what specific symptoms you have e.g. swelling, stiffness or tingling

In the foot pain diagnosis section, we use these to help you work out what is going on in your foot and what the possible causes of foot pain are.

Treating The Causes Of Foot Pain

Different causes of foot pain will require treatment. The first thing to do is to get the pain under control, which may require medication. Then it's a case of addressing any underlying problems.

If the foot is swollen, you will need to get the swelling under control with things like tubigrip and ice, if there is weakness or tightness in the muscles, you will need to do exercises.

There are lots of different options when it comes to treating the causes of foot pain - have a look at the Foot Pain Treatment article to find out which ones work best.

Page Last Updated: 28/11/18
Next Review Due: 28/11/20

Go to Foot Pain Guide


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