What Causes Foot Pain?
Your feet are complex pieces of natural machinery. They bear the weight of your body and absorb the impact from every step you take, while bending and flexing in all directions. When you think about everything your feet go through, it’s no wonder they’re at risk for injury and overuse.
The answer to what causes foot pain varies widely, but assessing the symptoms you’re experiencing can narrow down the list of suspects. A few common causes of foot pain include poorly fitted shoes and inflammatory conditions like plantar fasciitis and arthritis.
If you’ve been struggling with foot pain, learning more about the possible causes, symptoms, and treatments available could give you a running start on the road to relief.
3 Common Causes of Foot Pain
From the usual sore feet to severe and chronic foot pain, any kind of symptom or feeling experienced in the area can disrupt your lifestyle. While there are numerous possible conditions that could be causing your foot pain, there are a few underlying causes that are seen frequently.
#1 Lifestyle Factors
Our day-to-day life choices can have a trickle-down effect all the way to our toes. How we treat our bodies as we go about our normal activities can make a big impact on our feet and how they feel. The most common lifestyle factors that can lead to foot pain include:
- Obesity – Obesity is a common contributor to foot pain. The extra weight causes strain on the muscles and ligaments of your feet and raise your risk of developing a variety of foot conditions, including plantar fasciitis.1
- Staying on your feet for work – Work that requires long periods of standing or weight-bearing activity is another risk factor. You may not be able to do much to change your job if that’s a requirement, but you can be sure you’re wearing proper foot gear (which we’ll discuss in more detail later).
- Exercise – Foot injuries and overuse are often seen in athletes or those who work their bodies to the limit. Engaging in activities that involve repetitive impact with hard surfaces, such as running on pavement or high-intensity training on hard floors, is especially likely to cause foot problems over time. Factors that increase your likelihood of this kind of injury include lack of flexibility and gait problems caused by legs of different lengths or overpronation.1
#2 Footwear Problems
One of the biggest culprits behind foot pain and injury is what we put on our feet.2 Poorly fitted, worn out, and unsupportive shoes can cause new foot problems to develop, or worsen problems you already have. Dress shoes that are too narrow or that put too much pressure on the toes are two examples (high heels, we’re looking at you!).
Athletic shoes that aren’t replaced frequently enough and no longer provide enough support and shock absorption are another typical footwear problem. Orthopedists recommend replacing running shoes at least every 300 miles.3
#3 Underlying Medical Issues
Besides the causes above, other medical issues are often the underlying cause or an additional contributor to chronic foot pain. Some medical issues related to foot pain include:4
- Plantar fasciitis
- Morton neuroma
- Injuries, including sprains, fractures, or tendonitis
- Problems of the foot skin, such as corns, calluses, bunions, or warts
- Ingrown toenail
- Fallen arches
While many types of foot pain can be treated with home remedies, many of these medical issues will require consulting with a healthcare practitioner for diagnosis and care. Noting where your pain is located, how severe it is, how long you’ve been experiencing it, and whether it followed an injury can help you determine whether a home treatment option is appropriate.
How to Determine the Cause of Your Foot Pain
Where your feet hurt is key to answering the why they hurt—the location of the pain can help narrow down the cause. You may experience pain in any part of the foot, including the bottom of the heel, back of the heel, toes, arch, or the Achilles tendon.
If the pain is mild, it will often heal with at-home treatments and a few simple changes to your routine. More severe pain, or pain following an injury, should be assessed by your healthcare provider.5
Let’s take a closer look at three typical sites of pain and related conditions.
Pain in the bottom of the foot just in front of the heel is often linked to plantar fasciitis.6 Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the large ligament running from the heel to the ball of the foot becomes inflamed.
You may notice pain when first standing after a rest period, which eases as you move around
Plantar fasciitis can usually be treated very successfully at home2
Pain in the Ball of the Foot
Pain in the sole of the foot just behind the toes may indicate nerve or joint damage. It’s often associated with a condition called Morton neuroma, in which a noncancerous growth squeezes a nerve in the foot and causes discomfort.6
Symptoms of Morton neuroma may include:
- Pain progressing to tingling or burning in the toes
If your healthcare provider diagnoses this condition, they may suggest rest and supportive footwear or shoe inserts. Cortisone injections or surgery may be recommended if the condition persists2
Painful Achilles Tendon
The large tendon in the back of your leg that connects your calf to your heel bone is called the Achilles tendon. Injury and inflammation of the Achilles tendon is common, as it’s the largest tendon in the body and is prone to overuse.2
Symptoms of tendonitis in the Achilles include:
- Pain following exertion
Treatments your doctor may suggest include rest, stretching, massage, and splints or supportive bandage.
How to Treat Foot Pain
Since the starting point is determining the cause of your pain, you can now determine if you’re experiencing a stone bruise, claw toe, or even something as common as an ingrown nail. The next step will be finding the right treatment. For many foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, home treatment is often all it takes to recover.7
Here are a few treatments you can try for mild pain.
- Rest your feet – Sometimes, foot pain is simply your body’s way of telling you it’s time for a rest. You may have overdone your exercise routine and a few weeks’ rests will allow inflamed tissues to repair. Elevate your feet a few times a day to help circulation and ease swelling.4
- Rethink your workouts – Too much high impact exercise on hard surfaces, like running on asphalt, can cause excessive strain on the padding and ligaments in your feet and heels.1 Try to choose fitness routines that minimize impact on your joints. If you enjoy running or jogging, of course, there’s no need to cut it out entirely. Just make sure your footwear is supportive and replaced frequently. Change your running route to a more forgiving surface, such as grass or tracks lined with synthetic surfaces that are designed for shock absorption.
- Use ice or cold packs – Resting your feet on an ice bag or cold pack can provide immediate relief for soreness caused by inflammatory conditions like plantar fasciitis. Try filling a water bottle with cold water and ice, then rolling your foot over the cold bottle for 10 to 20 minutes. This can be done a few times a day if soreness persists.7
- Stretch daily – Perform gentle, frequent stretching, several times a day if possible. Focus on calf stretches and stretches for the soles of the feet, ankles, and Achilles tendon.7
- Replace your shoes frequently – Over time, the shock-absorbing capabilities of shoes break down and won’t provide adequate cushioning for feet and joints. Shoes that once fit properly will also stretch at the sides and become loose, allowing overpronation.8
- Add quality arch support inserts – To ensure your shoes provide sufficient support, replace the factory insert with a good quality arch support insert that’s properly designed to fit the natural movement of the foot.9 Shoe inserts are an easy way of treating food and arch pain or determining if your severe pain symptom may be caused by another problem.
What to Look For in Properly Fitting Shoes
Improperly fitted shoes can cause or worsen many sources of foot pain, including plantar fasciitis, bunions, corns, and hammer toes. They can even cause stress fractures.9
Here are a few important points to keep in mind to select shoes that fit correctly:9
- Get your shoe size measured – Sure, you knew what size shoe you wore ten years ago. But did you know your shoe size and foot shape can change over time? Don’t assume that the size you wore the last time you set foot in a shoe store is still the same.
- Leave room for feet to swell – By the end of the day, your feet will be larger than when you get up in the morning. Take this into account when shoe shopping and make sure shoes aren’t already snug at the beginning of the day.
- Don’t buy tight shoes expecting them to stretch – Look for proper fit when you buy. A pair of shoes that stretches out to fit your foot isn’t going to have enough support to prevent gait issues like overpronation.
- Leave room for your toes – While standing and putting most of your weight on one foot at a time, feel for the tip of your longest toe. There should be ½” of space or slightly less between your toe and the end of the shoe.
- Take them for a spin – Take a few steps around, paying close attention to any areas that are rubbing or slipping. Your heel should not slip in or out. Toes should not rub against the top of the toe box, and the ball of the foot should have room without chafing.
Whether you have a flat foot or low or high arch, keep this in mind as well when trying to find the right shoe fit. This can make a significant impact on your overall feet or ankle pain.
Talk To Your Healthcare Provider
If your foot pain is persistent or severe, it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and to rule out possible serious conditions. In certain circumstances, you should seek immediate medical care. If you are diabetic, it’s especially important that you see a healthcare provider right away.
Other signs you need immediate medical attention include:5
- An open or oozing wound
- Swelling, redness, warmth, or soreness at the pain site (these may be signs of infection)
- Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
Soothe Your Foot Pain with Vionic
Foot pain impacts every facet of your life, from simple daily tasks like putting away the groceries or walking the dog, to participating in activities you used to love. Understanding the causes and incorporating some easy changes to your routine can bring you one step closer to a pain-free lifestyle.
One of the most important long-term changes you can make to protect your feet and prevent future foot problems is wearing footwear that fits properly and offers support. Whether you’re looking for over pronation shoes or flat foot sandals, finding the right shoe type is essential. Enter Vionic, the brand designed to make happier, healthier feet. With Vionic, there’s no need to sacrifice style to get the best in fit, comfort, and support.
Support your feet and your long-term wellness with Vionic.
- Agyekum, Edward Kwame, and Kaiyu Ma. “Heel pain: A systematic review.”Chinese journal of traumatology = Zhonghua chuang shang za zhivol. 18,3 (2015): 164-9. doi:10.1016/j.cjtee.2015.03.002
- “Foot Pain and Problems.” University of Rochester Medical Center.https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P00914
- “10 Ways to Prevent Running Injuries.” AOFAS. 1 September, 2020.https://www.aofas.org/news/press-releases/2020/09/01/10-ways-to-prevent-running-injuries
- O’Connel, Krista. “What You Need to Know About Foot Pain.” Healthline. 11 January, 2022.https://www.healthline.com/health/foot-pain
- “Foot pain.” Mayo Clinic.https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/foot-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050792
- Tahririan, Mohammad Ali et al. “Plantar fasciitis.”Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciencesvol. 17,8 (2012): 799-804.
- “Plantar Fasciitis and Bone Spurs.” OrthoInfo.https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/plantar-fasciitis-and-bone-spurs
- “Overpronation.” Cleveland Clinic.https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22474-overpronation
- “10 points pf proper shoe fit.” Footcare MD.https://www.footcaremd.org/resources/how-to-help/10-points-of-proper-shoe-fit