Pain in the Feet: A Bigger Problem Than You Think
No one is a fan of pain, but pain helps alert our body to immediate problems that need attention. Consider it an alarm system for your body’s functions and when it comes to feet— There is a myriad of potential culprits you should be on the lookout.
Hand pain is bad, but at least you can walk to get help. Head pain is even worse, but as long as your feet are still operable, again you can get help. But nothing makes us feel more helpless than to have problems with the feet. It immobilizes you and traps you wherever the pain flares up. That’s why it’s important to be ahead of the curve on the possibilities of foot pain.
Achilles Tendon Problem: If your Achilles tendon rupture, you’re gonna know it. There’s going to be pain. You’re going to feel like someone is punching you in the calf and you won’t be able to get any leverage off that foot. It’s likely the result of a sports injury and is more common in athletes or people who think they are athletes.
A more common, less severe version of this is Achilles tendinitis. Typically, an athlete will kick up their game or exercise routine and overdo it. Middle-aged people that are just exercising can also be at risk, but there is a multitude of factors to consider:
- If you’re a man, you’re more at risk.
- The older you are, the bigger your Achilles tendon risk.
- Certain medications, including some antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones, have been connected to increased rates of Achilles tendinitis.
- Your weight, if you’re obese, can be a factor.
- Flatfooted people are at a higher risk than those with better arches.
- Tight calf muscles can increase the strain on the Achilles tendon.
- Your activity level, especially when you exercise, plays a huge factor.
- Cold weather tends to increase pain levels if you’re beginning to suffer from Achilles tendinitis.
- Your equipment, like running in sneakers that have worn out, can exacerbate the situation by failing to give you proper arch support.
- Psoriasis, especially if left untreated, can cause problems that would throw off your gait and increase your chances of Achilles tendinitis.
- Having high blood pressure can put you at a higher risk of suffering from Achilles tendinitis.
And since Achilles tendinitis can lead to a rupture, these conditions also can lead to that much worse problem and pain. This is why doctors and trainers advise you to increase your activity level slowly, rest, choose a good shoe, stretch, cross-train and don’t skip a calf day.
Bone Infections: Infections can erupt anywhere on the body. Bone infections are particularly painful and dangerous. Osteomyelitis, for example, travels through the blood. Symptoms include fever, redness, swelling, pain, and fatigue. It is difficult to diagnose Osteomyelitis since the symptoms overlap with other conditions and may be incredibly mild.
Surgical contamination, injury and a spreading infection from another part of the body may give you Osteomyelitis. You are more at risk, however, if you’re older or already have a condition that would lower your resistance to infection.
An infection like Osteomyelitis can do severe damage to a patient. It can cause skin cancer, septic arthritis in nearby joints, bone death and, in children, impaired growth. It’s important to seek treatment immediately if you suspect you have Osteomyelitis.
Diagnosing the condition is difficult, even for your doctor. A blood test may not be enough. Extensive testing, including a bone biopsy, may be required to conclusively diagnose the bone infection.
In less severe cases, a series of antibiotics may cure the infection without surgery. But in more extreme cases, doctors may have to drain the infected area of pus and remove any diseased bone and tissue. The purpose of the surgery would be to restore blood flow to the bone and allow the body to heal. Unfortunately, this is not always a cure. In very extreme cases, doctors may have to amputate a limb to stop the infection from spreading to the rest of the body.
Bone Spurs: Bone spurs in the foot are calcium deposits that grow off the heel bone. Some people get them and don’t even know it because there is no pain. But many people who get them report a great deal of pain. The growth can tear into muscles and ligaments and cause great strain on the foot.
Likely causes of bone spurs include:
- Being overweight.
- Running on hard surfaces.
- Wearing ill-fitting shoes.
- Another ailment which causes the victim to walk in a way that produces excessive stress on the heel bone.
Additionally, spending a great deal of time on one’s feet, increasing with age, flat feet and diabetes can all be contributing factors. Bone spurs can be removed with surgery, but physical therapy, corrective shoes, and stretching exercises, along with over-the-counter pain meds, can alleviate much of the pain with bone spurs.
Bunions: If a bony bump forms on the joint near the base of your big toe, then you may have a bunion. It can push your big toe, forcing it over your next toe causing stress and pain. Bunions can be hereditary, but they may be the result of an injury or arthritis.
If you have a visible protrusion on your big toe, foot pain, trouble moving your toes or foot and/or you can’t find shoes that fit properly, you may have a bunion problem that requires a doctor’s visit. The best treatment is prevention, so good foot health is essential.
Corns and Calluses: These bumps made of hardened or inflamed skin can be caused by a variety of reasons. Tight shoes, high heels or footwear that doesn’t fit right is often the culprit. Sometimes socks that don’t fit properly can be the cause or repetitive actions with the feet over a period of time may make corns and calluses develop. Additionally, any physical deformities in your feet caused by other conditions may cause these to develop.
The best prevention is wearing good shoes that fit well and don’t rub against any part of your foot. Sometimes sole inserts or other small inserts can help prevent this condition or keep it from worsening.
Trimming away the excess skin either by having a foot doctor shave it off or used medication can help. In rare cases, surgery may be the answer. However, doctors often prescribe home remedies like using over-the-counter pads, soaking your feet to soften the skin, moisturizing your feet or using pumice to remove layers of irritated skin.
Hammertoe and Mallet Toe: In these instances, the toes do not extend straight out from the foot as they should. Hammertoe causes an abnormal bend in the middle joint of the second, third and/or fourth toe. Mallet Toe impacts the topmost toe joint. These abnormal toe bends often require special fitting shoe inserts and, in more severe cases, corrective surgery.
Although some people can be born with these conditions, they can also develop after trauma or wearing particularly tight footwear. Women are more likely to suffer from these conditions than men and other risk factors include age and toe length. These conditions can also be brought on by arthritis and diabetes.
Proper fitting footwear that isn’t so tight is the best preventive and the symptoms may be reversed with a roomier shoe.
Haglund’s Deformity: This inherited deformity is similar to a bone spur and can lead to joint inflammation. It can be aggravated by wearing pump-style shoes and cause pain in the back of the heel, as well as irritate the Achilles Heel.
Depending on the severity of the deformity, non-surgical treatment can address the issue. Orthotic inserts, lifts, pads and shoe modification can solve the problem. Sometimes exercise can relieve the tension and pain, as well as physical therapy or even immobilization in more extreme cases.
But the most extreme cases require surgery. This may be done to prevent further foot complications and pain.
Diabetic Neuropathy: Diabetics are vulnerable to a variety of complications due to their condition. This is a more serious condition that can only be prevented or slowed by living the most healthy possible lifestyle. Peripheral Neuropathy is one of the conditions that are most common and is described further down in this article.
Further complications include Autonomic Neuropathy, Radiculoplexus Neuropathy, and Mononeuropathy that tend to hurt other places on the body, but can impact the feet. The only sure way to combat these conditions is to combat the Diabetes that causes them.
Injuries and Stress Fractures: Broken bones in the foot or toe are not easily ignored by the patient. The pain, throbbing, and swelling make the condition obvious. It is not something that should be ignored.
Broken bones need to be immobilized. In rare cases, surgery may be required to repair severely damaged bones. Additionally, pain meds and anti-inflammatory drugs will be prescribed. As recovery takes place, the patient will usually undergo some kind of physical therapy. If left untreated, these conditions can cause many other long term problems.
Stress fractures happen when the bones crack, but don’t break. The pain may not be as noticeable. Just like the breaks, they may be the results of sports injuries, weak bones and lack of nutrients relating to Vitamin D and calcium.
Bracing the foot, wearing a walking boot and/or using crutches or a cane is an option for patients without severe stresses. In more extreme cases, surgery may be required to realign the bones and make blood flow more rapidly.
Most doctors will urge rest, icing the area and slowly ramping up activity until the foot heals.
Gout: Intense joint pain, swelling, redness, discomfort and limited motion range with your feet are symptoms of gout. Gout is a kind of arthritis, found more often in men, that is sometimes the result of a rich diet and obesity. Family history and age are other risk factors, as well as certain medical conditions and even recent surgery can bring about this painful condition.
Good diet and exercise can prevent gout as well as the complications from it, which can cause kidney stones or more severe gout symptoms.
Gout can be treated by a doctor using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, colchicine or corticosteroid injections. However, it’s much easier to prevent gout with diet and exercise than to suffer and treat it later.
Ingrown Toenails: An extremely common form of foot pain is known as an ingrown toenail. This condition causes pain and tenderness in the toe around the toenail. If left untreated, it may become infected and get worse.
Patients that wear tight shoes that push the toenails together or people that cut their toenails too short may give themselves an ingrown toenail. It can also happen due to an injury or simply by having toenails that are abnormally curved.
Depending on the severity of your ingrown toenail, a doctor may lift it and put something in between the skin and the nail so it grows over the skin instead of into it. The doctor may also have to remove part of the nail or the entire nail in more extreme cases.
By trimming your toenails to a moderate length, wearing properly fitting shoes and checking your feet, you can prevent this condition.
Joint Inflammation: Sometimes known as Bursitis, joint inflammation in the feet can make your feet feel painful and stiff. Your joints may become red and swollen and it will hurt more when you press on them.
Depending on your age, occupation or recreational activity, you may suffer from joint inflammation. Regular exercise, keeping yourself at a healthy weight, stretching and taking sensible breaks from activity can prevent this condition.
Bursitis can be easily treated with over-the-counter meds, ice and rest. Some patients may have to see a doctor for persistent inflammation and obtain stronger meds and therapy. Rarely, corticosteroid injections are used or even surgery for extreme cases. Most likely, a patient can use a temporary device to assist in walking like a cane or a walker until the pain and swelling go away.
Metatarsalgia: This common ailment with an uncommon name creates a pain in the ball of your foot just behind the toes. The pain may worsen on a hard surface or even just from standing and walking. Some sufferers complain that it feels like there is a pebble in their shoe. You may experience pain, numbness and/or tingling in your toes if you have Metatarsalgia.
The most common cause of this condition is an intense athletic activity. Marathon runners are vulnerable to this, as well as people born with certain foot shapes that distribute pressure more towards the ball of the foot.
Other causes include obesity, foot deformities, stress fractures, ill-fitting shoes, and Morton’s Neuroma. These conditions can cause a high risk for metatarsalgia, but almost anyone can develop it under the right conditions.
If you got to the doctor for this condition, he’s likely to prescribe rest, over-the-counter pain meds and icing the affected area. He may recommend wearing proper footwear, wearing pads in your shoe or using arch supports to minimize stress on your feet.
Morton’s Neuroma: This condition seems very similar to Metatarsalgia, but there no visible sign on the foot. Like Metatarsalgia, you may feel like you have a stone in your shoe, as well as a burning pain that radiates into your toes and/or tingling or numbness in the toes.
Wearing high heels, playing high impact sports and foot deformities listed here can also bring about Morton’s Neuroma, but only tests by your doctor can reveal the condition.
The most effective treatment for most Morton Neuroma’s patients is therapy and orthotic soles inserted into shoes. In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend steroid injections. In very extreme cases, surgery can provide relief by cutting areas to relieve the pressure or removing the offending painful nerve entirely.
It is most likely that anti-inflammatory meds combined with ice massage and rest can relieve much of the pain. As always, wearing proper fitting shoes is key to good foot health.
Osteoarthritis: Arthritis in the feet or anywhere in the body can be a very painful experience. This condition tends to get worse with age and slowly creeps up on a patient over many years.
Joints will start to hurt and get tender, you’ll lose flexibility and become stiff. In the later stages, patients experience a grating sensation as their bones rub together and this will often cause bone spurs in the affected joints.
Older patients are more at risk for osteoarthritis and women are more likely to develop it than men. Heavier people, those with joint injuries and certain occupations are more at risk to develop this condition than other people. Additionally, bone deformities and genetics play a role, as you are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritis if you’re genetically predisposed to it.
Pain meds, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and Cymbalta can all be used to mitigate the pain symptoms associated with Osteoarthritis. Doctors may also recommend regular therapy, occupational therapy, Tai Chi and even Yoga. These gentle exercises and stretching can help reduce pain and stress.
In more extreme cases, cortisone and lubrication injections can help alleviate pain. In some patients, the relief in instantaneous and long-lasting, but in other patients, it may have little or very temporary effects. Surgery to realign the bones can provide some relief, but the last resort is a joint replacement. In this treatment, a surgeon will actually remove the joint and replace it with an artificially one, but full recovery can take months.
Healthy diet and exercise are the best preventive to mitigate Osteoarthritis symptoms. A series of heat and cold pads can also help. Some patients have luck with capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot chili peppers, and other topical creams. Using a cane or walker can also help take the weight off a particularly painful joint.
Paget’s Disease of Bone: This disease is more likely to occur in the bigger bones of your body. It causes bones to become fragile and deformed. Until the patient experiences bone pain, tingling and weakness, they won’t even know they have it. Bone deformities and unexplained hearing loss on one side are other symptoms of the disease.
Europeans, men, and people above 40 are more likely to develop this condition. Additionally, it tends to run in families.
Doctors prescribe drugs called bisphosphonates for this disease. These are the same drugs used to treat Osteoporosis. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to replace joins, realign bones or take the pressure off of nerves.
Some patients with this disease show no signs of the symptoms. It’s important to maintain good overall health through diet and exercise. Since breaking bones is a common occurrence with this disease, making sure your home obstacle-free to prevent falls is important.
Peripheral Neuropathy: This condition means that you have nerve damage and it will affect your extremities. You may get numbness, tingling, pain, extreme sensitivity, weakness or even paralysis. Some patients experience falls and lack of coordination as well. In more extreme cases, some people experience heat intolerance, problems with the bladder, bowels and digestive tract, changes in blood pressure and dizziness. It largely depends upon how many nerves are affected.
There are myriad of causes for this condition including alcoholism, autoimmune diseases, bone marrow disorder, diabetes, infections, inherited disorders, injury, poison exposure, side effects from meds, tumors, vitamin deficiency, and other diseases. But sometimes, doctors cannot pinpoint the cause of Peripheral Neuropathy.
Preventing the underlying cause of this condition is the best way to avoid it, but since doctors can’t always know what caused it, it may be unavoidable. Additionally, since it may be the result of an injury, infection or an unavoidable hereditary condition, you may still get it anyway. Since this is a complex condition tied to many potential other conditions, you may have to have a battery of test to conclusively known that you even have it.
In more mild cases, pain meds, anti-seizure meds, topical treatments, and antidepressants can work to mitigate many of the symptoms. However, in more extreme cases, Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation Therapy may be needed along with physical therapy to negate muscle weakness. Plasma exchange therapy might also be necessary, but in the most severe cases, surgery to relieve pressure on nerves could be required.
Plantar Fasciitis: Runners and overweight people often suffer from Plantar Fasciitis, which creates irritation in the heel and pain. This stabbing pain happens in the morning and if the sufferer spends too much time standing.
This irritant is most common in patients ages 40 thru 60 and in people who spend all day on their feet. Flat footed and obese people and people that do a lot of high impact exercise often suffer from this condition.
Fortunately, most patients can cure the condition with rest, icing the area, regular stretching and pain meds. Some people may require physical therapy, night splints or custom orthotics to help distribute feet pressure more evenly.
In the most extreme cases, doctors may use steroid injections or use extracorporeal shock wave therapy. Sometimes a minor procedure called the Tenex Procedure can help. In the worst cases, a surgeon may actually have to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone to provide pain relief, although this severely weakens the arch.
Healthy habits, good foot health and supportive shoes can prevent this condition.
Plantar Warts: These familiar foot growths aren’t particularly worrisome, but they can cause pain and discomfort. These unsightly lesions can cause bleeding, soreness and pain when walking or standing.
Warts are caused by HPV and can be transmitted through cuts on the skin by walking barefoot in places like locker rooms and communal baths. People with weakened immune systems, children, teenagers and people that spend a great deal of time in high exposure areas are more likely to get Plantar Warts.
Most likely, Plantar Warts will go away without treatment. Over-the-counter remedies can keep them from spreading, reduce symptoms and make them go away quicker. A doctor may prescribe medicine that will peel them away faster or use cryotherapy to freeze and remove them.
In more extreme cases, doctors may use stronger acids, immune therapy, surgery, laser treatment or even an HPV vaccine to rid patients of Plantar Warts. But keep your feet dry and changing your socks and shoes daily is still the best way to prevent warts from erupting on your feet, to begin with.
Psoriatic Arthritis: If you have psoriasis, you may also get this kind of arthritis. There is no cure of it, but the symptoms may be mitigated with treatment.
Swollen toes and foot pain, especially at the back of the heel, are the two biggest symptoms of this condition with regard to feet. If you have Psoriasis or a family history of it, you greatly increase your risk. Doctors are not sure what may trigger this condition in some people or how to avoid it. In rare cases, it can develop into arthritis mutilans and much more severe and disabling disease.
Raynaud’s Disease: This disease limits the blood flow in your fingers and toes so that you feel numb in response to stress or cold. Your skin will actually feel cold and you will get prickly feelings or stinging pain. The skin will turn white and sometimes blue in response to cold and stress. Warming the toes or fingers can take up to 15 minutes.
Doctors are unsure what causes this disease and most cases are so mild, they do not require treatment. However, diminished blood circulation can lead to tissue damage, blocked arteries, and even gangrene.
Preventative measures fighting the cold for the toes and fingers are the best way to combat the condition.
Reactive Arthritis: This kind of arthritis is triggered by an infection in a major group of organs like the intestines or urinary tract. It can affect joints in the ankles and other parts of the body as well.
The symptoms include pain and stiffness, eye inflammation, urinary issues, swollen toes, low back pain, skin problems and soreness in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. People from 20 to 40 are most likely to suffer from this condition, although there are genetic markers that make the condition more likely in certain people.
There are a variety of bacteria that can cause the original problem that arthritis stems from including Campylobacter, Chlamydia, Clostridium difficile, Salmonella, Shigella, and Yersinia. Avoiding the bacteria through safe sex practices and proper food storage are just two ways to avoid the condition.
And while antibiotics will eventually remove the original infection, the suffering from arthritis may persist for several months afterward. Doctors can treat the condition with anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, topical steroids, and rheumatoid arthritis drugs. Targeted physical therapy may also mitigate the symptoms.
Septic Arthritis: This joint infection can pop up in people with existing joint problems. It may come into play after some traumatic joint injury or while the immune system is compromised from another illness. Additionally, if you have fragile skin or rheumatoid arthritis, you may be at greater risk for the infection. The condition is more common in older adults and causes great discomfort, swelling, fever, and problems using the joint.
Without treatment, the condition may cause permanent damage to the joint. Doctors treat Septic Arthritis by draining the infected joint fluid either by needle or using a scope procedure. In more extreme cases, surgery is needed.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: In this condition, a nerve is squeezed in your ankle that can cause numbness, tingling and shooting pain. Flat-footed people are more at risk as well as people with certain kinds of feet formations. Injury or disease may also bring on this kind of suffering and compression of the nerve.
Fortunately, most cases can be solved without surgery. Icing the affected area and resting can allow the foot to heal. Anti-inflammatory medication may also be prescribed.
In more severe cases, the foot may be immobilized for a time in a cast and the patient may have to go for physical therapy. Injection therapy can provide more instant relief, as well as injecting corticosteroids. Additionally, doctors may recommend orthotic shoe inserts, better shoes or braces to provide more support. If none of this works, surgery may be the last resort.
Tendonitis: This common ailment creates dull aches in the joints, tenderness and mild swelling. Old people and people in more physical occupations are more vulnerable to this condition.
Prevention is the best way to avoid Tendinitis. Proper rest and exercise, stretching and using ergonomic equipment in your workspace go a long way into making sure you don’t suffer from Tendinitis.
Doctors will most likely prescribe pain meds or corticosteroids to relieve the pain. Platelet-rich Plasma treatment is sometimes used for chronic sufferers. These treatments, along with physical therapy, can mitigate most of the problem.
In the most severe cases, doctors may have to use more invasive means of treatment. Dry needling, ultrasonic treatment or surgery may be the patient’s only other options.
Tumors: Tumors in any place on the body isn’t good, but in the feet, they can cause additional problems as well. Many of the conditions described that compress nerves, move bones and cause joint infection can be tied to tumors in the foot. Assuming there are no other, more serious ramifications, doctors can remove the tumors with surgery and, depending on the kind of tumor, shrink them with medication and/or chemotherapy.