11 Most Common Causes of Foot Pain

foot pain

Foot pain is very hard to figure out. There, pheww, thats done :)

Unfortunately it can be debilitating for some, annoying for others and completely misdiagnosed for many. The art of pain is trying to figure out:

  • where actually on the foot it is
  • what does it start (some pain starts in the morning and then stops then starts back up again towards the end of the day
  • What type of pain is it- some pain can relate to muscles and others to nerves
  • does it only start up when you do a certain job/ exercise, wear a certain pair of shoes, in certain weathers

Then there is trying to halt the pain in the acute stage- when it is fairly new before it gets to a chronic stage where the pain is prolonged and some simple relief measures don't work.

There is no way you can be 100% sure that this is exactly the cause, and issue with the foot without looking at it, knowing the patient background, testing it and maybe sending it off for tests. Here are the main reasons patients get foot pain (in no order).

1. Metatarsalgia


Many patients have been diagnosed with this. In most cases it is pain on the foot usually underneath it. So what exactly is metatarsalgia?

Foot pain.

Generally that is what it is. Unidentified pain in the foot. The metatarsals are the balls of your foot so you would think that the pain is there. However, for me, it doesn't mean too much. 

2. Metatarsal pain

metatarsal pain

This is pain in the balls of your foot. The most common reasons are:

  1. A corn. Usually soreness when pressed and you can see a small dark usually circular area around a pressure area- directly over one of the bones. Usually- but not always, no redness or swelling is found. When the doctor reduces the hard skin from it, it helps, but it quickly returns. Foot pain caused by corns can be treated.
  2. Sometimes it is just hard skin over a thin layer of skin. Again, callus can be treated.
  3. When you have a look at your toes are they really clawed and the balls of your feet are a bit more pronounced? Then sometimes the fatty padding that is protecting the balls of your feet can be reduced (usually it migrates under your toes) showing the balls of your feet off a bit more than normal. People with high-heels can get this. In this case you have foot pain because of the lack of cushioning to your feet.  To help this? Add cushioning to your footwear to "replace" the fatty padding that has shifted

3. Specific Metatarsal Pain

foot pain

In some cases your pain can be in a small specific area on the balls of your foot. The above covers the most common, but then we have the less common:

  1. Capsulitis. Your joins are surrounded by a capsule to make them nice. Sometimes that capsule, if irritated by pressure can cause foot pain. It usually relives itself with pressure reducing techniques or when someone doesn't stand for that long. Usually there is no redness or swelling and the pain is not that bad
  2. Fracture. Common to the second metatarsal and is sharp, can be red and swollen and usually comes after some activity- like running. Making sure it is a fracture in the first place is required and then pressure removal- like a removable boot is usually needed. They heal up in time.

4. Neuroma


A neuroma is where the nerves inbetween your toes get rubbed and then thickens. It is an irreversible issue once they thicken. They can be anywhere inbetween your the balls of your feet- but not specifically on the exact bone of the metatarsals. A Mortons Neuroma is nothing special- just that it is inbetween the 3-4 metatarsal.

The pain with this can be sore and get worse over time and relief usually comes from walking around barefooted or with wider footwear. Tight footwear causes the metatarsal bones to press more on the nerves. If it gets too bad then surgical removal of the nerve is helpful

5. Diabetes

Tingling, burning and shooting pains can be all part of diabetic neuropathy. This is where the nerves have been damaged/ sent off nerve signals due to irregular blood sugars. If those blood sugars have been up and down on a regular basis then you tend to find that your symptoms get worse. If the blood sugars have been regular for a couple of months you tend to find the odd sensations tend to calm down. Neuropathy can also be treated with prescribed medication

6. Infection, Cuts, Ulcers, Debris

foot ulcers

You can have foot pain due to a cut, infection or an ulceration (a breakdown of the skin). Even in diabetics who have little feeling foot pain can still be felt with an infection. So visually checking those feet on a daily basis can help limit the damage- also making sure that you see a health care professional right away is also recommended.

Debris can be splinters, stones, gravel and any object that can embed itself into your skin. This can hurt and needs to come out (by a health care professional) so that the area doesn't get infected or become much worse.

7. Bunions

Foot pain can be related to a very common problem. Pressure from tight shoes will aggravate and press on those bunions. You can tell because the bunion will be sore. When you wear a heeled shoe the reduced movement in that joint will also cause pain.

You can also have a little toe bunion, called a Tailors Bunion. There are treatment options.

8. Boney bits and arthritis

Sometimes time and mechanics have caused little bits of bone to form. When these form the joints in the foot don't move as well as they should and that can cause pain. Sometimes the arthritis can cause additional pressure and swelling which then presses on nerves and other structures within the foot.

Sometimes finding out how to deal with this type of foot pain depends upon what best works for you is the best treatment. Other times, the body figures out a way to move and adapt and in time it is possible that other arthritis (like knee arthritis) could be caused by this adaptation.

9. Heel pain

foot pain

The heel is a very put upon structure- it whacks into the floor with most of our weigh every time we walk. Sometimes the structures within the heel hurt because of the constant pressure being demanded upon them. Other heel structures hurt because of a failure in the system which allows the heel to work.

Heel pain can be healed quite quickly if you figure out what is causing the pain in the first place (e.g. excess pressure under the heel, excess weight from the person) 

10. Plantar fasciitis

A very common foot pain problem that has pain sites in mainly 2 places:

  1. Roughly in the middle of the bottom of your foot
  2. Around your heel

The fascia is a broad band of inelastic tissue that inserts into your heel and goes all the way under your foot and inserts into your toes. If you think of a bow on its side, the fascia is like the string.

Being very inelastic the fascia hates to be hurt or be out of its comfort zone. It has also a reduced blood supply so any tears or rips take a while to heal. but, the problem is every time you step on your foot you use the fascia.

Plantar Fasciitis and how to treat it is found here. Most of the time the problem with the fascia is inflammation- it is hurt so it tries to tell you and deal with the cause of the inflammation.  If you have a heel spur then that is the fascia insertion being pulled over a long period of time. They dont disappear but they can be contained and calmed down. In some instances people have them removed if too troublesome.

11. Cracked heels

Some people don't see that cracked heels can cause foot pain but when they start to form and open up and cut, then pain is felt.

Cracked heels are not hard to treat but they need to be caught at the right stage for you to do it at home. Any waiting then a healthcare professional is usually required- especially if they cut and open up.

Usually caused by dry heels and pressure the skin can not take the stresses being placed upon it so it starts to crack. If it builds up hard skin (a natural defense) then that hard skin can crack as well because of lack of moisture. 

Now what to do with foot pain?

Get help from a healthcare professional. Why? Because:

  1. you can see all the common issues which could cause painful feet. But it could be others like gout, foot drop, infection or a medical condition which can cause problems for you. If you check it out early then further pain can be reduced
  2. you dont want the pain to be chronic. Like we said at the start, chronic pain is harder to heal because the pain cycle has been going for so long.

Go back to the orthotics main page

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About Dominic Hough

Hi. I'm Dominic. I treat patients every day at a local clinic. I am a trained Chiropodist and I care about prevention. I designed the website to help readers understand treat and even prevent issues from happening to their feet.