Foot Pain Diagnosis

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

Foot Pain Diagnosis: All the help you need to work out what is causing your foot pain and how to treat it

Foot pain diagnosis is all about working out what is causing your pain so you know how to treat it effectively.

One of the simplest ways to approach foot pain diagnosis is to start by thinking where exactly the pain is.

From there you can hone-in on specific symptoms to work out what is causing your foot pain.

There might be a problem in the bones,  inflammation in the tendons or damage to one of the ligaments.

There are over 100 muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments in the foot so there are countless things that can go wrong.

Top of Foot Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis - Top Of Foot Pain. Find out about the most common causes of pain on top of the foot and how to treat them

Pain on top of the foot, or across the front of the ankle is a common problem.

Strain on the muscles, tendons and bones from overuse can lead to inflammation or degeneration resulting in tendonitis or even fractures.

Full Article: Pain On Top Of Foot

Bottom of Foot / Arch Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis: Foot Arch Pain. Find out all about the most common causes of pain underneath the foot and how to treat them

Pain underneath your foot is common if you spend a lot of time on your feet.

There may be weakness and tightness in the muscles, or the foot arches may not sit correctly. These both mean the foot isn't supported properly, leading to pain.

Poor foot hygiene also causes problems underneath the foot.

Full Article: Pain Under Foot

Side Foot Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis: Side Foot Pain. Learn all about the common causes of pain on the sides of the foot and how to treat them

Pain on the side of the foot is usually caused by overuse, injury, wear and tear or bone deformity.

An ankle sprain will typically cause pain & swelling on the outer side of the foot. 

Pain on the inner side of the foot is often due to flat foot arches.

Full Article: Pain On Side Of Foot

Heel Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis: Heel Pain. Find out about the most common causes of pain in the heel and how to treat them

Our heels absorb most of the impact when we walk so heel pain is a common problem.

Pain at the back of the heel may be from tendonitis, bursitis or bone damage.

Pain underneath the heel is usually from plantarfasciitis or bone spurs.

Full Article: Heel Pain

Toe Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis - Toe Pain. Find out about the most common causes of toe pain and how to treat them.

Problems can develop in any of the toes, but most commonly it's the big toe that's affected.

Bone deformity is a common problem leading to bunions or bent toes.

Toes may be damaged in sports or inflamed from conditions such as gout or arthritis.

Full Article: Pain In The Toes

Nerve Pain

Foot Pain Diagnosis: Nerve Pain In The Feet. Find out how foot pain can be caused by nerve damage and how to treat it

Nerve damage frequently causes burning, pins and needles, numbness and weakness in the feet. 

The nerve may be damaged anywhere between the lower back and the toes.

Symptoms may be felt in both feet.

Full Article: Nerve Pain In Foot

Calf Pain

Foot Pain Explored: Calf Pain. Find out how calf pain and foot pain are linked, what causes them and how to treat them

The calf muscles are linked to the foot by the achilles tendon so foot and calf problems often go together.

Damage to the calf muscle may cause foot pain and altered foot biomechanics such as flat feet can cause calf pain.

Calf pain can also indicate vascular or neurological problems so should be taken seriously.

Full Article: Calf Pain

Pain can often radiate to more than one part of the foot which can make foot pain diagnosis tricky, but start by thinking where your biggest area of pain is, or where it started and go from there. 

Our foot pain diagnosis chart helps you work out what is causing your foot or ankle pain.

You can find out more about each specific area of foot pain diagnosis by visiting the full articles.

If you are more of a visual person, have a look at our foot pain diagram identifiers to help you work out what is wrong.

If your pain is more widespread, visit the Foot Symptom Guide to use your symptoms, such as swelling or burning pain, to help you work out what is wrong.

Why Is Foot Pain Diagnosis Important?

Accurate foot pain diagnosis is such an important part of treatment and recovery from foot and ankle pain. Without it, treatment tends to be general rather than specifically targeted to your problem, and whilst your foot pain may settle down in the short term, it is likely to return at some point.

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 or made an accurate foot pain diagnosis 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 foot 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.

Seeing The Doctor

Accurate foot pain diagnosis is best done by your doctor or physiotherapist. They will start by asking you about your symptoms and will want to know:

  • When and how the pain started
  • What other symptoms you have
  • Activities that aggravate your symptoms
  • Anything that helps to ease your symptoms
  • If you've had any previous injuries
  • If there is any daily pattern to your foot pain
  • Whether things are getting better, worse or staying the same
  • Any treatments that you have tried
  • About any other medical conditions you have or medications that you are taking

After this, they should examine your feet, comparing left and right and looking for any abnormalities such as swelling, redness or bruising. They may also want to look at your knees and back, particularly if they suspect there may be nerve involvement.

They will look at the movements of your foot and ankle as well as the strength and flexibility of the muscles. They may also perform some special tests to assess the integrity of ligaments and other structures.

If they suspect a bony injury, you will be sent for an x-ray. They may also order blood tests or other imaging such as a CT scan or ultrasound depending on what they find.

Once they have given you a foot pain diagnosis you will either be advised how to self-manage your pain, or be sent to a specialist such as a physiotherapist, orthotist or orthopedic consultant.

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Page Last Updated: 01/12/20
Next Review Due: 01/12/22

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  3. Diagnosis Guide

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