Foot pain is shockingly common: According to research by the American Podiatric Medical Association, approximately 77 percent of people in the United States report that they have experienced significant foot pain. But at the same time, just a third of those surveyed say that they would actually seek medical care to address it.
Not all foot pain is serious, but you should never ignore any severe bodily aches. Even if the discomfort seems minor, it’s always safer to rule out dangerous conditions. Here are a few of the most common causes of foot pain that everyone should know about.
Plantar fasciitis is a condition that involves pain and inflammation of the tissue called the plantar fascia—which runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the toes to the heel bone. The inflammation is typically due to tension and stress on the heel, which can be caused by wearing high heels or performing impact activities like running. In fact, it’s one of the most common athletic injuries podiatrists see. Plantar fasciitis feels like a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot, near the heel.
Achilles tendinopathy is a non-inflammatory heel pain that occurs in the Achilles tendon—where the lower leg connects to the heel. If you’re suffering from this condition, you may experience a swelling, stiffness and weakness of the particular tendon.
If you’re engaging in a new activity (that the foot isn’t used to), you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of stress fracture. When you subject the foot to increased stress, the bone can fail. The fracture might not be discernable at first: It could feel like a general pain in one area on the top of your foot, which progressively gets worse and can sometimes swell. If you have a stress fracture, you’ll need to temporarily stop exercising and may need a walking boot or crutches. The condition is important to diagnose because when ignored, it can worsen significantly.
If you’re experiencing numbness, stabbing or burning pain in the feet (and possibly the hands), you may have peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is the result of damage to the peripheral nerves. Although peripheral neuropathy is most commonly caused by diabetes, there are a long list of other potential causes: injuries, alcoholism, vitamin deficiencies, exposure to toxic substances, infections, diseases, genetics, and more.
For older adults, frequent foot pain and stiffness can be a sign of osteoarthritis—a condition which may cause wear and tear of the tissues in the joints and the toes.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder, and it can affect you throughout the body—including the feet. Arthritis involves swelling and inflammation in and around the joints, which might show up in the foot and its surrounding soft tissues. These inflammations and swellings might be responsible for the pain and stiffness in your foot, signifying a more severe disorder.
It isn’t very common, but Morton’s neuroma is common in women and has been linked to wearing high heels. A neuroma is an enlargement of the tissue around the nerves between your toes. Wearing tight, narrow, high-heeled shoes compresses the foot and causes rubbing, which then thickens the nerve. Morton’s neuroma can make your toes sting or feel numb, or cause a burning pain in the ball of the foot.