The foot consists of many small bones that can cause significant pain when they become injured or misaligned, or when the protective cushioning around them deteriorates.
Various issues can affect the foot, potentially resulting in pain that worsens with every step.
In this article, we discuss some of the potential causes of foot pain when walking, as well as their treatments.
This condition, which causes pain in the heel or the bottom portion of the foot, accounts for an estimated 15% of foot problems.
Plantar fasciitis typically causes the worst pain when a person walks first thing in the morning.
The symptoms include stabbing pain in the heel and bottom of the foot, especially when walking and standing.
A doctor may conduct a physical exam, as well as an X-ray to ensure that there are no underlying fractures in the small bones of the feet.
Wearing special splints or braces to stretch the tendons can reduce pain, as can wearing special supports or taking part in physical therapy sessions.
Other treatment options include:
- stretching and strengthening exercises
- ice massage
- anti-inflammatory medications
- corticosteroid injections for short-term relief
A person can learn more about stretches that can ease the pain here.
This condition occurs when nerves in the foot start to thicken, placing pressure on the toes. A person may feel as though there is always something in the shoe, such as a rock. Tingling, numbness, or burning in the foot may also occur.
The pain typically presents in the ball of the foot, while burning and stinging sensations tend to appear in the toes.
A doctor may take imaging studies, such as an X-ray or ultrasound, of the foot to diagnose this condition.
Treatment includes wearing special devices in the shoe, such as an arch support or foot inserts. A doctor may recommend surgery to reduce the pressure on the nerves or remove the nerve altogether.
Metatarsalgia typically presents as a sharp aching and burning pain on the ball of the foot. It can also cause numbness or tingling in the toes and the feeling of an object, such as a pebble, being in the shoe.
The pain is usually concentrated in the ball of the foot, just behind the toes.
This condition closely resembles several others, including Morton’s neuroma. A doctor may perform an X-ray to rule out a stress fracture or other potential underlying causes.
At-home treatments, such as rest, ice, or changing footwear to a more supportive option, may help.
A doctor may sometimes recommend surgery to correct a hammer toe, which can realign the bones that cause metatarsalgia. However, this is a last resort.
A person can also perform the following exercises:
Active stretches do not use any external force. A person can relieve metatarsalgia by performing this stretch:
- Place the middle of the foot on a step and lower the heel as far as possible.
- Keep it in this position for 10 seconds.
- Repeat the stretch 20 times.
A person should try to do this exercise 3 times a day.
A person can do this exercise while doing other activities, such as shaving or brushing the teeth.
It involves standing on a slant board for about 30 seconds at a time to encourage a strong posture.
Tendinitis occurs when a tendon becomes inflamed. Tendinitis, especially of the Achilles tendon that runs down the back of the heel, can cause pain when exercising.
The pain consists of an ache in the back of the leg or heel, as well as tenderness or stiffness in the foot.
A doctor will usually conduct a physical exam to test for pain, swelling, and tenderness on or around the Achilles tendon.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help.
A doctor may also recommend physical therapy exercises or special inserts for the shoes to reduce strain on the Achilles tendon. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
Turf toe is a sprain of the big toe. The pain worsens when the toe is hyperextended, as it often is in a push-off position.
The condition causes pain and stiffness, especially of the big toe. Some people may also notice swelling and bruising.
A doctor will conduct a physical examination in which they are likely to focus on testing the range of motion in the toe.
Treatment includes resting, icing, and elevating the toe. Physical therapy may also be an option to reduce joint stiffness.
Sometimes, surgery to correct the toe can help remove excess bone chips or correct damage to the toe.
Also known as bunions, hallux valgus occurs when the foot changes in structure, with the big toe tilting toward the other toes. This misalignment causes a bump or bony prominence to appear on the inside of the foot by the base of the big toe.
A person may notice a burning sensation, as well as redness, swelling, or numbness in the foot.
The pain can get worse, particularly in the big and second toes, when a person is wearing shoes.
A doctor can identify a bunion by viewing the foot. However, they may sometimes suggest an X-ray to determine the extent of the bunion’s changes.
A person may treat minor bunions by making changes to their footwear, such as wearing shoes that have a larger toe box.
Taking OTC pain relievers, applying ice, and wearing specially made shoe devices can help reduce symptoms. If the bunion causes a severe deformity, or at-home measures do not help, a doctor may recommend surgery to correct it.
This condition occurs when the protective pad on the bottom of the heel starts to atrophy or shrink. As a result, a person’s heel bone may hit the ground more often when they walk.
Heel pad atrophy can lead to pain, burning, and the development of a callus on the heel, where a person typically feels the pain.
Doctors may use a combination of a physical exam and imaging studies to assess the condition.
A person may try at-home treatments, such as applying ice packs and resting the foot. Using special orthotics or heel pads may also help.
Osteoarthritis can cause deterioration in the protective cushioning in the bones of the feet, leading to stiffness in the toes, heels, and feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that destroys cartilage, ligaments, and tendons in the feet. This damage can cause symptoms that include pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.
Arthritis can affect different parts of the feet, including the toes, ankles, balls of the feet, and heels.
A doctor will carry out a physical exam and possibly use an X-ray to identify any abnormalities. They may also order a blood test to check for the presence of autoantibodies.
Learn more about the different blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis here.
At-home treatments, such as resting, applying ice, and engaging in physical therapy, can help reduce arthritis pain.
Sometimes, a doctor may recommend special orthotics, splints, wraps, or braces that help reduce pressure on the feet.
Surgery may be an option to correct underlying deformities, but only if nonsurgical options have not worked.
The type of arthritis, as well as the location, will influence which surgical procedure a person may undergo.
The different surgical options include:
- Arthroscopic debridement: A surgeon removes loose cartilage, bone spurs, and tissue from around the affected joint.
- Arthrodesis: This procedure fuses the bones of the joint.
- Total ankle replacement: In people with advanced arthritis, the surgeon removes the cartilage and bone and positions a plastic or metal replacement.
Abnormal bone growth causes heel pain, swelling, and redness. Some people can develop the pain as a result of plantar fasciitis.
The pain primarily affects the heel, usually when a person is walking, jogging, running, or engaging in other types of physical activity.
A doctor will perform an X-ray of the heel or foot to diagnose a heel spur.
Resting the foot and applying cold compresses can help. Injections of anti-inflammatory medications or taking OTC medicines may also provide relief.
A person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- visible deformity in the foot
- extreme pain when walking
- pain that makes it difficult to complete daily activities
- frequent swelling and redness in the feet
A doctor can conduct a physical exam and recommend treatments that may improve a person’s physical activity level.
A variety of medical conditions can cause discomfort that leads to pain when walking.
These conditions include problems that affect either the big toe, all of the toes, the heels, or the ball of the foot.
If the pain becomes constant and starts to interfere with a person’s daily life, they should see a doctor or orthopedic specialist.