Everybody gets foot pain at some point in their lives. From the toes through to the back of the heel and underneath, some foot pain can be temporary and mild, but sometimes it can be persistent and chronic with a real impact on quality of life. When you think about it, foot pain does make sense as most of us are on them a lot of the time, using them to walk, stand, keep balance and absorb shock.
According to research by the American Podiatric Medical association, the average person takes between 8,000 and 10,000 steps a day, which when you think about it is a lot! No wonder their health is so important..
Our feet are complex pieces of engineering, so naturally there are a number of different things that can affect them. While minor foot pain can usually be taken care of at home with rest, massage and other light treatment, severe conditions and injury often require medical assistance and specialist equipment. If serious foot pain is left untreated, it could end up making things worse, and sometimes, can be irreversible.
In our complete guide to foot pain, we’re going to take a look at some of the more common causes of foot pain that can be treated at home.
What are the general symptoms of foot pain?
Broadly, there are three grades of foot and heel pain: During activity, before and after activity (without affecting performance, and pain that prevents activity in the first place. Other than ‘normal’ foot pain, here are the things to look out for that may indicate a specific health condition.
- Pain, sensitivity or tenderness when touching the foot.
- More pain when moving, and less pain when rested.
- Pain when the foot is moved, but not stood upon.
- Bruising, swelling, stiffness and loss of mobility.
- Numbness or weakness in the foot.
- A change in the way you balance and walk to avoid pain.
- A change in the color of the nails or skin.
- Unusual odour, growths and bumps.
- Difficulty with normal steps and exercises.
The main conditions that lead to foot pain
There are many conditions that lead to foot pain, but we’re going to look at some of the more common and treatable ones.
This is the most widespread and common foot condition that affects runners and active people, but can happen to regular folk as well. Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick ligaments (also known as the Plantar Fascia) that run along the bottom of your foot, connecting the heel bone to the forefoot. The Plantar Fascia are an essential part of the foot and support the arch, as well as behaving as the ‘springboard’ for moving forward.
The usual symptoms of this condition include aching or sharp pain at the underside of the heel. The heel pain doesn’t usually happen suddenly and builds up over time over days or even weeks. Also, the pain can sometimes be at its strongest when you first wake up in the morning or during an active session that leans heavily on the foot and ankle.
- Too much training, running or high intensity exercise on the feet.
- Wearing zero-drop shoes or any footwear that has poor arch support.
- Overly tight calf muscles or injury to the Achilles tendon due to running.
- Weight gain that adds weight and pressure onto the Plantar Fascia.
If you’re suffering the symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis or have been diagnosed, the best thing you can do is temporarily reduce the training volume and overall stress on your feet. If you continue to put pressure on the area, you run the risk (pun intended) to intensify the problems. If you want to remain active, this may be a good time to work on your upper body!
In your day to day life, you can improve your Plantar Fasciitis pain by hearing soft and supportive shoes that have strong arch support. Avoid going barefoot as much as possible and you’ll soon start to see improvement.
You can also use one of the many massage machines that are on the market which can use heat and kneading to gently work the muscles for a more effective recovery. Check out our list of the best massagers for Plantar Fasciitis for inspiration!
When your feet start to feel better in the mornings, you can gradually ease your way back into your normal fitness program, but do take things easy in the beginning. We also recommend continuing your massage regime every day, and using sports shoes which have the proper support for your arches, heels, bones and underside. If the pain comes back quickly or persists, consult your podiatrist again for their advice.
Yout Achilles tendon connects your heel bones to calf muscles, which you can imagine is put through stress almost constantly. When you walk or move, the calf contracts and pulls the heel up, allowing us to push off from our toes for running, walking, and jumping.
However, too much of this movement over a sustained amount of time can lead to micro tears in the muscle, inflammation, tendonitis and other problems. This tendonitis usually occurs at the insertion point where the Achilles and heel bones connect, or in the middle of the tendon and the connection point to the calf muscle.
The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis typically involve dull aches and pains in the ankle, especially at the start of the calf muscle or around the heel bones. The area can also become swollen and red, and your movement will be more limited as a result.
- Too much training or intense activity that involves the feet and calves.
- Exercise that occurs uphill, as the angles put more pressure on the Achilles.
- Low quality, worn out and unsupportive shoes that are too flat.
- Weakness in your core, ankle or hip.
- Injury from improper stretching and warming up before intensive movement.
The best way to handle Achilles tendonitis is to simple take a break from your fitness activities, so that the muscles and joints have time to recover. If you continue to be active or move in the same manner, you could make any microscopic tears a lot worse. It’s also not a good idea to walk barefoot at any time during your recovery as the muscles will still be stretching and moving, and will therefore not have the space to recover.
Another thing to bear in mind is that you must avoid overstretching, as this can actually cause tendons to move away from the bones completely, which will require more serious treatment and care. This kind of stretching can happen from normal day to day life, such as dropping your heel off a step, or balancing on your toes to reach for something.
As well as good rest and appropriate footwear, you can treat your feet to a massage machine or foot spa that can help keep your blood flowing for better. Take a look at our list of the best foot massagers for runners to find out more about the different options you have.
If you feel like shoes are your issue, don’t worry: our article on the Best Shoes for Foot Pain has you covered.
Tinea Pedis (Athlete’s foot)
Another common foot affliction that most of us have at some point is Tinea Pedis, which is better known as Athlete’s foot. Athletes’ feet is most commonly found in between toes, toenails and around foot soles. It is a fungal infection that affects athletes more than most, but can happen to pretty much anybody. It is not a serious condition, but should be treated as soon as possible before it spreads.
The symptoms of Athlete’s foot include itching, stinging and burning sensations between your toes or on the soles of your feet. This can also result in raw skin on the feet, together with dry skin and even crumbly, discoloured toenails. In more severe instances, you can develop blisters on your feet and your toenails can even pull away from the nail bed. To diagnose the condition, doctors typically scrape off a little bit of your dry skin to test for fungal cells.
- Visiting public places with bare feet, especially public showers and swimming pools.
- Sharing socks, shoes or towels with someone who has the infection.
- Keeping your feet damp or wet for extended periods of time.
- Wearing very tight footwear with no space or air flow.
- Leaving minor injuries on the toes or nails untreated.
Athlete’s foot is typically treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal medications. However, If OTC medications are not successful in treating the infection, your doctor may prescribe oral or topical antifungal medications which are a little stronger. Your podiatrist will most likely recommend home treatments to help clear up the infection, with advice to keep the feet away from water and exercise.
Did you know that there are special socks which can be used to treat Athlete’s foot? Well, there are! We’ve written up an entire guide that has the Best Socks for Athlete’s Foot, so go ahead and check it out to find out how they work, and which ones would work best for you.
Everybody’s feet have different arch heights, which are an important factor in their likelihood to develop and experience arch pain. For instance, those that are flat-footed are more likely to experience fatigue and a loss in strength in the ankles, muscles and tendons in the area. Conversely, those who have higher foot arches will be more likely to develop pain in the forefeet, heel bone and even the lower back. This is because they will lack sufficient mid-foot structural balance and support, which in turns puts more pressure upon the toe and heel bone.
The symptoms of arch pain are typically felt in the heel and ball of the foot, but you can also experience pain at the top of your foot and ankle bone, or even your hips, legs and lower back. There may also be underlying causes such as too much activity and insufficient shoes for the shape of your feet. The pain will likely be more intense in the morning.
- Very high or low foot arches.
- Ageing and lack of exercise.
- Fast weight gain.
- Footwear not suited for your arches.
- Excessive physical stress on the bone and muscle.
Like other foot conditions that are muscular in nature, the best treatment for foot arch pain is plenty of rest and proper support/footwear. Of course, the treatment does depend on the severity and cause of the issue, but if the symptoms are limited, you’ll probably not need serious treatment. In some cases, your doctor may recommend plenty of rest, and using ice to relieve any swelling and pain around the heel muscle, ankle bone and other affected areas..
Gentle stretching and massage can also help with foot arch pain. For more information on how you can help your foot arch pain, take a look at our Guide to Foot Pressure Points and Reflexology.
Peripheral neuropathy is connected to issue with the peripheral nerves in your body. These nerves are used to transmit signals from your central nervous system, brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body, including your feet of course. These nerves are normally supposed to signal temperature, pain and other sensations, but if there is a problem, these signals persist even when nothing is happening and can lead to some very specific symptoms.
The symptoms of neuropathy can include tingling and numbness in the feet, as well as pins, needles and hypersensitivity. Other indications of neuropathy can be increased pain, the inability to feel pain and the inability to detect changes in temperature. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult a medical professional as soon as possible, as this could be a serious issue if left untreated or unmanaged.
- Traumatic injuries.
- Various infections.
- Alcoholism and drug abuse.
- Genetic predisposition.
- burning, stabbing, lancing, boring, or shooting pains, which may be worse at night.
The most effective treatment of peripheral neuropathy depends on the cause of the nerve damage in the first place. For instance, if a vitamin deficiency is causing improper nerve health, the symptoms can be better managed, or even reversed with the necessary dietary changes.
Similarly, if the cause is diabetes, proper treatment and monitoring of blood sugar can help to lessen the symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential, so if you suspect that you may have neuropathy, please consult a doctor as soon as you can to seek pain relief.
Physical therapy and foot massage can also help manage the symptoms of neuropathy in your feet, as it stimulates the nerves and helps maintain the flow of blood and nutrition. While foot massage will not cure neuropathy, it can help to manage the symptoms. For more information, read our piece on the Best Foot Massage for Neuropathy.
Other treatment advice
Foot pain can be brought on by a number of causes, injuries, underlying conditions, or disorders.
Because of the many different kinds of problems that can cause pain, it can sometimes be difficult to decide when it is best to seek medical attention. Here are some indicators that may suggest you should see your doctor:
- Pain is interfering with normal daily activities.
- You can not perform desired activities without pain, even walking.
- Pain worsens when mobile, especially around the ankle bone, heels and underside of the foot.
- Your foot is beginning to look deformed or misshapen.
- You have a loss of function.
- Changes in sensation occur- for example, you cannot feel heat from concrete on a hot day.
- Severe swelling, even if only walking.
- Changes in your skin color or nail color.
- Heat in the painful area of the foot.
- Your foot is tender to the touch.
- If you are forcing yourself to walk or run a different way to avoid pain.
- Your foot hurts even though you didn’t sustain an injury.
Your doctor will diagnose your foot pain based on your activities, your medical history, the intensity of pain and obvious signs and symptoms.
X-rays and other imaging tests (CT scans, MRIs) may be ordered if there are no obvious signs of an underlying cause, or if you are unable to put weight on your foot. Physical examinations may also reveal where the problem is located in the foot.
Pain relief and options for Your Foot Pain
As well as regular massage, there are other things you can do to manage and treat your foot pain. Of course, if it feels serious, the first thing you should do is to visit your doctor or a foot specialist for diagnosis. If caught in time, the condition may not progress and can even be reversed.
One thing which can help is to remember the acronym, RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The ice is especially useful for cases where you have inflammation and pain.
Other treatment methods can include proper shoe inserts, careful stretching of the foot massagers, better footwear,, limiting physical activity, and of course, foot massage.
Preventing foot pain
While we’ve mentioned treatment options in the above sections, prevention is often the best cure. Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of developing foot pain and associated conditions:
- Wear the proper size and style of shoes and socks for the activity you are engaged in.
- Treat all underlying conditions such as gout, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Warm up with stretching exercises before all physical activities, even walking.
- Be careful when increasing your workload, your body may not be prepared.
- Listen to your feet, and have all problems examined by a medical professional.
- Refrain from activities that cause pain until you have sought treatment or diagnosis.
Make it better with massage
Foot massage is a practice that has been around for centuries. As well as feeling fantastic and used as a relaxation tool, it has numerous medical benefits as well. These include:
- Better circulation and blood flow.
- Increased and efficient recovery time after various exercises and running.
- More muscle kneading helps with oxygen and blood exchange.
- Relief from back pain and arch pain.
- Reduction of headaches.
- Treatment for bunions and Athlete’s foot.
- Relief from the symptoms of neuropathy.
The good news is that you don’t need to spring for expensive spa sessions to help manage foot pain. There are many massage machines on the market today, tailored for all budgets and needs. It may seem like a lot to take in, but with our Everything You Need to Know About Foot Massagers guide will lay it all out for you.
We hope that this guide has been helpful. With the right combination of massage and advice from your doctor, we’re sure that your foot pain can be managed a little more easily. Remember, that shoes are everything and can help mitigate bone issues, running stresses and even your daily steps.