Foot pain is a major health problem. A podiatric supplement to the U.S. National Health Interview Survey estimated that around 24% of the population has at least one foot ailment and that older adults experience more problems than younger adults. A recent study called the Framingham Study reported that 19% of men and 29% of women experience foot pain on most days of the month.
Foot pain, left untreated, can lead to more serious and more expensive problems later. Untreated foot pain can lead to joint deformity, infection, arthritis, impaired gait, and even amputation.
Foot pain can occur for a myriad of reasons including tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, diabetes, heel spurs, gout, and arthritis. In this article, we will go in depth on a few of these different causes of foot pain.
Tendonitis – Tendons are thick cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon. This can occur in a variety of places on the body but the most common type of tendonitis on the foot is Achilles tendonitis. Tendonitis happens more frequently in people who wear high heels, people with high-arched feet, athletes who change playing surfaces, and in people who have weak or tired calf muscles. The symptoms of tendonitis include pain, swelling, stiffness, redness, warmth, reduced strength and range of motion, and the presence of a Hagland’s deformity, which is a bony formation on the back of the heel.
Plantar fasciitis – The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot. It begins at the heel and stretches out to the ball of the foot. The plantar fascia helps maintain the arch of the foot and is essential in foot stability and movement. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation and tears of the plantar fascia. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include heel pain, foot pain after prolonged rest, foot pain after prolonged activity, and heel tenderness. People who have flat feet or who stand or walk for prolonged periods of time are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
Sports injury – The high stress placed on the feet during athletic participation can cause imbalances in foot muscles, leading to mechanical dysfunction. This dysfunction can lead to significant pain and poor movement ability. Some common sports injuries affecting the foot include turf toe, bunions, and plantar fasciitis (which was previously covered).
Turf toe is a condition that happens with repetitive hyperextension of the big toe. Turf toe is commonly seen in athletes that wear lightweight, flexible shoes and people who do box jumps or Olympic lifts. Turf toe is characterized by pain and tenderness at the joint of the big toe, pain during pushing off, and pain with movement of the big toe.
Bunions are bony bumps that form on the joint at the base of the big toe. Bunions occur when someone uses their ligaments and bones to support the foot with each step they make instead of using the foot muscles. It also means that when someone pushes off, they use the big toe rather than the ball of their foot. Symptoms of bunions include pain and tenderness on the inside of the big toe and the pain is intensified when wearing pointy, thin shoes.
Heel spur – A heel spur is a bony protrusion caused by calcium deposits on the underside of the heel. Heel spurs are often caused by strains of the foot muscles and ligaments, stretching of the plantar fascia, and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel bone. Athletes who do large amounts of running and jumping, people who wear poorly fitting shoes, and obese people are at an increased risk of developing heel spurs. Heel spurs often cause no symptoms but can be associated with foot pain if inflammation occurs at the place of spur formation. The pain associated with heel spurs has been described as a knife or pin stabbing into the bottom of their feet when they first stand after prolonged periods off their feet.