Foot pain 

  • Overview

Introduction 

Tendonitis: an animation

Tendonitis is a painful condition caused by swollen or injured tendons in the body. This animation explains the condition in detail.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

Foot problems: a visual guide

Foot problems: a visual guide

A visual guide to some common foot problems, including athlete's foot, corns, calluses and bunions

Getting help from the podiatrist

Taking care of your feet is essential. Here's how podiatrists and chiropodists can help

Foot pain is a common problem with a wide range of possible causes. You should see your GP if it is severe or persistent.

This page summarises the main possible causes of pain in the foot, toes or heel (heel pain is covered in more detail separately).

If you think your foot pain may be caused by shoes that don't fit or are uncomfortable, consider investing in flat-heeled shoes that provide enough space and support for your feet. You may find our advice on choosing sports shoes helpful.

The information below focuses on foot pain caused by an underlying health condition or problem with the foot. It aims to give you an idea as to what the problem might be, but shouldn't be used for self-diagnosis. Always see your GP or a podiatrist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating foot problems) for proper diagnosis and treatment advice.

Common causes of foot pain

Sprains and strains

Sprains and strains affect muscles and ligaments. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints that connect one bone to another.

You may have sprained the muscles and ligaments in your foot if you have done more activity than you are used to. The tissues in your foot may have been stretched or twisted, but they will not be permanently damaged.

An example of a sprain may be pain and swelling at the base of the big toe caused by spraining the ligaments around the big toe joint. This condition, known as "turf toe", is often seen in dancers and footballers who play on artificial turf.

Gout

Gout is a type of arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid (a waste product) in the body. Crystals of uric acid can form in the joint of your big toe, causing severe pain and inflammation even when you're resting.

Gout usually affects the joint of the big toe first before affecting other joints. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between gout and a severely inflamed bunion.

Read more about treating gout.

Verruca

verruca is a growth on the sole of the foot. It can be painful because the weight of your body can force it to grow back into your skin.

Verrucas are fairly easy to identify. They look like small, flat white circles of skin that often have a black dot (a blood vessel) in the centre.

Read more about treating verrucas

Bunion

bunion is a bony swelling at the base of the big toe that can be painful and difficult to walk on. Bunions are a common foot problem, particularly in women. The big toe points towards the other toes and the big toe joint sticks out, forming a bony lump.

This animation about bunions shows how a bunion forms and is treated.

Infected ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail occurs when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. The toenail pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender. If it becomes infected, the toe will be painful and difficult to walk on.

Read more about the treatment of an ingrown toenail.

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is damage to the tough band of tissue (fascia) that runs under the sole of the foot, which causes pain in the heel. It's often brought on by an activity such as running, or sometimes happens after a gradual wearing down of the foot tissues.

Read more about how to treat plantar fasciitis.

Less common causes of foot pain

A nerve problem

Sometimes the nerve that divides between the toe bones becomes irritated or squashed, leading to a sharp, severe pain in the base of the toes.

This painful condition is called Morton's neuroma. The exact cause isn't always known, although a number of problems seem to aggravate it, such as wearing high-heeled shoes or having flat feet.

The pain usually affects the third and fourth toes and will suddenly start when you're walking. Pain is relieved by removing the shoe.

Read about how Morton's neuroma is treated.

Strain or pressure on the ball of your foot

Pain on the ball of your foot may be caused by a condition called metatarsalgia, which has a number of possible causes.

Metatarsalgia is often described as a burning or aching pain that ranges from mild to severe and gets worse when you move. It can affect one or two toes near the ball of your foot, or sometimes the whole foot.

Anything that puts extra strain or pressure on the ball of your foot can bring on the pain – for example, wearing tight-fitting shoes for a long period of time, high impact sports, or being overweight. Older people are more susceptible to getting metatarsalgia. 

Read more about how metatarsalgia is treated.

Arthritis

In older people, repeated episodes of foot pain can signify a sudden worsening of osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.

Osteoarthritis causes swelling of the tissues in and around the joints, including the big toe and heel joints.

Read more about treating osteoarthritis.

Less commonly, foot pain can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, which is a type of arthritis caused by the immune system attacking the joints and causing the joint tissues to become inflamed. It almost always affects other joints too, so foot pain will not be your only symptom.

Read more about treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Achilles tendonitis

If you have damaged the Achilles tendon at the back of your heel (for example, after twisting your ankle), it may lead to inflammation of the tendon, otherwise known as tendonitis.

Achilles tendonitis causes pain and stiffness in the back of the heel, which can often be relieved by painkillers, rest and an ice pack.

Read more about treating tendonitis.

Oedema

If your whole foot is painful, heavy and swollen, it may be a sign of oedema. Oedema is a build-up of fluid (mainly water) in the body's tissues, causing swelling to occur in the affected area.

Oedema will usually affect your whole lower leg, too. See your GP or, if the pain and swelling is severe, go to your nearest hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department.

An object embedded in your foot

Foot pain can sometimes be caused by an object that has become embedded in the foot. It may therefore be worth considering whether you have stepped on something sharp with bare feet and examining your foot for a wound.

A cracked bone (stress fracture)

If you do a lot of high-impact sports, such as long-distance running or basketball, the cause of your painful and swollen foot may be a small crack in one of the bones of your foot. This is known as a stress fracture.

Stress fractures most commonly occur in the:

  • bones leading to the second and third toes (metatarsals)
  • heel
  • outer bone of the lower leg
  • bone on top of the midfoot

The fracture area will be tender to touch and the skin may be bruised. You should stop all activity immediately and avoid putting weight on your foot until you see a doctor.

Page last reviewed: 08/05/2013

Next review due: 08/05/2015

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Comments

The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

niceteeth said on 25 April 2014

I've suffered ages from shin splints/aching legs/heel pain. It seems like I'm walking in sand and after 20 minutes my legs are really tired.
Tried most of the usual stuff - creams, tablets and even physio. I think i also have heel spurs or plantar fasciitis - fancy name for heel pain.
A cheap and quick fix I discovered was orthoshock insoles . A friend of mine was wearing them while playing golf and he mentioned that they really helped.n
I didn;t think something as simple as an orthotic insole would help but it did so Im sharing my story with others who hvae sore feet and legs. orthoshock.co.uk i think the site is
also spray that freezes the legs - not the heat one but the cold one - this really helps with leg cramps - sorry - can't remember name of this spray at the mo

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shirlwillie said on 04 March 2014

For the last 4months I have had to endure pain in my right foot on a daily basis. After various appointments , X-rays and ultra sound, it now has been found I have damaged various tendons and ligaments in that foot. It looks like it was caused by me badly twisting it 16 months ago. At the time of twisting it, it was painful for a day or 2 . Then the husband broke his ankle, so I had to take over running of the farm.

His foot is healed now. As for mine, regardless of sitting down, laying down, feet up. Resting etc etc. the pain does not get any better. As for pain killers, I can't take them forever. Now waiting for orthopaedics app . Which is in 6 wks time. I have also been informed that Cysts have formed in my foot and is likely cause to pain , pushing down on nerves.

As for sleeping at night, I'm lucky to catch 4 hours, as the quilt hurts my foot. If you an imagine your foot crushed in a vice, that is how it feels 24/7.

Roll on end of March.

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steven787 said on 22 January 2014

@85Paul29 I have exactly the same problem except I work sitting down so its not that bad. I asked my manager and she also told me it could be my shoes, which makes sense as I recently got new shoes. I'd suggest buying a pair of insoles for your foot, you can get some on amazon but don't buy the cheap £2-3 ones because their next to useless I went for the Sorbothane ones. Hope this helps.

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85Paul29 said on 13 January 2014

For a few weeks now I have had a severe pain on the top of my foot around the Tarsal-Metatarsal area. The pain comes from whenever I put weight on the foot, causing me to limp. The soles of my feet feel sore, but the pain is at it's worst on the top. I work on my feet upto 12hr shifts, with a lot of standing at a counter putting weight predominantly on the foot in question. My father believes my footwear is the issue, but the pain is now making work a problem. I can't afford time off unless it's paid, eg doctors note, but I also can't continue in this way. Any ideas?

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Celticcraftz said on 18 December 2013

Hi, I was just wondering if it's normal to have an escalation in foot pain after having had a x-ray that showed no bones were broken. I was running up the stairs in my house when I landed awkwardly on the ball of my foot and had sudden intense pain. I waited a day and when the pain didn't decrease I went and had the x-ray as I was unable to go to work (I work on fishing boats so need to be able to balance on both feet). The pain though has been increasing steadily and I am unable to bend the foot to put it into a shoe. It has also become more swollen and bruised over the last day. Is this all just normal and will pass in time?

Thanks

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Esx123 said on 10 December 2013

This is for question or advice..

I've had a pain from the middle of my foot to my ankle for over two weeks now and the pains getting worse. Every time I walk its a struggle, I can just about limp without a constant pain. I cant even stand up on the foot with out the pain shooting through. Anyone has any suggestions on what I can do or if I need to see a doctor/hospital/?

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beatriceca25 said on 15 February 2013

I've been walking loads recently as i'm living in New York. i walk a minimum of 3 miles a day and sometimes very quickly to get to work. A week a go i noticed my foot was feeling a little sore on the top and bottom but i didn't think anything of it and i've continued to walk to work. It's progressively got worse and now i feel a strong aching pain a bit like a cramp throughout my foot after walking. It also hurts when i walk and i get a sort of stretching sensation inside my foot so i have to limp a bit. It's also swollen on the top and the bottom and when I press down on the top of my foot it hurts and feels quite bruised. Any ideas what it could be? If it persists I'll go to a doctor but i just wanted to get an idea as to whether it's some sort of a sprain or damage to a tendon.

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Col9R said on 29 December 2012

In August or September I went to see my doctor after nearly a year of having unexplainable problems with my left foot. Since at least the begining of this year in the Metatarsal area of my foot.

Every time I bought a new pair of shoes after a while it would feel like the shoe sole itself was weak and I can feel everything underneath much more heavier than it does with my right foot, like stones, rough ground. It isn't as much painful but just very tender and the skin feels like it is burning.

I explained to my mum who told me that the problem couldn't be with my shoes and to go and see the doctor. She gave me a rubber pad which I have been using since. Again, I explained to the doctor and he said that it was an inflamed Metatarsal. The doctor sent me to the hospital where I had an X-Ray of my left foot but showed nothing out of the ordinary. After not much joy I am waiting tgo hear from a podiatrist having since been referred. In the meantime I want to find cures or treatments and woulg be grateful if anyone could help Thanks!

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dimples777 said on 19 July 2012

Hiya, i woke up this morning and the top of my left foot is very swollen and painful. i have not hurt it by exercise or any other way that i can think of because I have trouble walking anyway because of a back injury. I keep getting strange pins and needles and pains in my ankle too. i would be grateful for any ideas or help.

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abs4040 said on 19 April 2012

Thank you for the great article, I just wanted to share a little of more story with the readers with the hope that it may help somebody. I had suffered from really severe heel pain for years as I am a nurse and I am constantly on my feet. Being a nurse and working in a hospital were the podiatrist department was based and having access to any number of Drs to ask for advice I tried everything to try and stop this pain which was at one time excruciating. I would wake up and would be hoping around the house and then after a long days work the pain sometimes bought me to tears.

After the advice of the podiatrist I tried some NHS orthotics, these were plastic hard orthotics and were very uncomfortable. They made the condition worse so I went to see a Dr I knew based in the hospital, he recommended a hydrocortisone injection. The injection was very painful but the pain from the heel stopped for 3 months but when it came back oh boy was it painful. I was then advised that the only other course of treatment I could try was surgery and to release the plantar fascia, as you can imagine I was not keen on that too.

After my frustration and desperation I went to see a private podiatrist who told me that I was over pronating and that I need orthotics that would cost £300! The NHS doesn’t pay us nurses that well that I can afford them! I then purchased some orthotics online, I don’t want to post the url in these comments as I think I will break some rules but they were called dr foot pro insoles. These were not as hard as the NHS insoles and no were near the price that the private podiatrist was going to charge me. They have eased the pain almost 70% but it’s still not gone. I’m now at a stage where im thinking of surgery but I have heard so many horror stories that it’s putting me off. I just hope that in time with these orthotics they will stop all the heel pain.

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