Foot pain is a common problem which can have many causes, including a sports injury, the natural shape of your foot or sometimes disease.

Summary

In many cases, foot pain goes away by itself without needing treatment. However, if your pain continues or affects your everyday life, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Causes of foot pain

The cause of your pain can often be identified by the location of the pain and other symptoms you might have.

If you have severe pain anywhere in your foot following a fall or accident, you could have a fracture. It will usually feel hot and swollen, and you might be unable to walk. You should go to your nearest minor injury unit or A&E if you suspect a broken toe, ankle or foot.

Foot joint pain

Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain and stiffness, and sometimes crepitus (a cracking or crunching sound or sensation when you move a joint). Forms of arthritis that commonly cause painful feet or ankle pain are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

Heel pain

Pain in your heel could be plantar fasciitis, a condition which around one in 10 people will get at some point in their lifetime. It makes it difficult to walk, caused by the inflammation of a strong band of tissue which stretches from your heel to your toes.

If you have heel pain but you're able to lift your toes without pain, then you may have bursitis - inflammation of a bursa, which is a soft cushion within your joints.

Sudden pain and difficulty walking may be an Achilles tendon rupture due to force or injury. Alternatively, Achilles tendinopathy is pain and stiffness that appears gradually. It's a type of tendonitis (inflammation in a tendon).

Toe pain

 Common causes of toe pain are:

  • Gout – typically causing sudden, severe pain and swelling in the big toe that's hot and tender
  • Bunions – a deformity in your big toe causing gradual pain and discomfort
  • An ingrown toenail

Other causes of foot pain include:

  • Chilblains - itchy swellings that appear red or dark blue caused by exposure to the cold
  • Athlete's foot - a fungal infection on your feet
  • A verruca - a small lump with black spots on the sole of your foot which can be painful when you put weight on it
  • Corns or calluses – hard patches of skin that cause discomfort when you walk
  • Tendonitis - inflammation in a tendon often also causing swelling, stiffness or weakness
  • Problems with blood vessels in your feet, such as peripheral arterial disease (a build-up of fatty deposits in arteries of the leg, restricting blood supply) or diabetes

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

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Getting a diagnosis for foot pain

You should visit your GP if:

  • Your foot pain has lasted for over a week
  • The pain is severe or suddenly gets worse
  • The pain is in both feet
  • The pain is following an injury

Your GP may be able to diagnose your foot problem just by examining your foot and talking about how you’re feeling. However, occasionally they might need to use imaging tests such as an X-ray or ultrasound scan to make a diagnosis.

Your GP may refer you to a consultant specialising in feet (a podiatrist or chiropodist) who can help diagnose you and recommend treatments, such as creams or insoles.

Treatments for foot pain

Most foot pain can be managed at home. Depending on what type of pain you have, you could try:

  • Resting your foot as much as possible
  • Applying an ice pack up to 20 minutes every few hours
  • Wearing comfortable shoes and using heel pads and arch supports
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen

If these don’t improve your symptoms, your doctor may recommend:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Medication to treat an underlying cause
  • Joint injections to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief
  • Surgery, if other treatments aren't working

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