Definition and Overview

The foot, although it may not seem like it, is one of the most complex parts of the human body. It is comprised of 26 bones that are held together by ligaments, muscles that enable it to function and fat pads that help in absorbing the load. As one of the most utilized parts of the body, it is normal for it to experience pain from time to time. However, foot pains are not always due to stress. Pain may also be a symptom of a disease, an injury, or recurring trauma. Pain can be a result of something as simple as wearing the wrong shoe size. Sports and work environments can also place a lot of stress on the foot that results in pain. Diseases like arthritis and gout can cause a tremendous amount of pain that can last anywhere between a few hours to a few days, or even longer.

As it’s normal to experience some type of foot pain on a regular basis, especially if you’re physically active, it can be easy to dismiss the pain and think that it will go away with a massage or a little bit of rest. Unfortunately, not all types of foot pains will disappear that easily. In some cases, dismissing the pain may, in fact, worsen a certain condition. It’s important that you know when you need to see a doctor before it results in more damage.


Foot pains are either minor or require medical attention. Below are some of the most common causes:

  • Ingrown Toenails – When toenails grow into the toes they can cause minor discomfort. In severe cases, an ingrown toenail can result in an infection accompanied by excruciating pain. When this happens, you’ll likely need to seek medical attention to remove a part of the toenail and treat the infection.

  • Arthritis – The feet are common targets of arthritis. When the joints become inflamed, it can be very difficult to move the feet or apply any type of pressure. If you encounter foot pain with no apparent causes, it can be a case of arthritis, and you’ll need to seek medical attention.

  • Sprain – These are usually described as minor injuries to the muscles and/or tendons of the feet. In most cases, rest and pain medications will be sufficient to treat a sprain.

  • Fracture – A fracture is indicative of a medical emergency. However, in some cases it may not be evident and may be mistaken for a sprain. The affected foot will need to undergo an X-ray or a scan in order to determine the presence of a fracture and the extent of the damage.

  • Tendinitis – This condition causes inflammation of the tendons. It can cause severe pain, and you will need medical treatment.

  • Gout – This is similar to arthritis but is caused by elevated uric acid levels in the body. Urate crystals form between the joints and causes intense pain. You will need to seek treatment for this condition as gout can also cause deformation of the bones if left untreated.

When should you see a doctor?

Home remedies such as placing ice on a swollen foot and avoiding placing any type of pressure on the foot can sometimes help in reducing the pain. However, reduced pain does not necessarily mean that you won’t need to see a doctor. You should consider seeking medical help if you experience any of the following:

  • If you see signs of infection, such as swelling and fever.
  • If you cannot use the foot at all, even after a period of rest
  • If there’s a wound that won’t heal
  • If there’s a wound and you have diabetes
  • If the pain is severe
  • If there are no significant results after a couple of days of home treatment
  • If you notice a burning or tingling sensation or if the foot becomes numb

How is the level of pain graded?

People handle pain at different levels. Severe pain to some people may be moderate to others. It’s important that you grade the level of pain according to your own experience.

  • Pain experienced only during activity
  • Pain before or after an activity
  • Pain that affects performance
  • Pain that prevents any type of performance

The first three levels of pain can be considered mild to moderate. If the pain prevents you from performing any actions, then this is considered as severe. Regardless of the pain level you experience, if the pain is recurring or won’t decrease after treatment, make sure you seek medical attention as this can be a symptom of a worsening medical condition. Your doctor will perform tests to identify the underlying cause of the pain.

Prevention of foot pain

In many cases, foot pain can be prevented, especially if you’re expecting to be physically active during a certain period. Always wear the correct footwear when engaging in physically active sports. Most sports have specially designed shoes, so make sure you use the correct type and the correct size.

This is also the same in your work environment. If your job requires you to be on your feet most of the time, make sure that you wear comfortable shoes. Some women need to wear high-heeled shoes in the performance of the jobs, but these types of shoes can place a lot of stress on the feet. Make sure that you wear them only when needed.

Lifestyle changes can also help prevent foot pain. If you have gout, besides taking your medicines regularly, you’ll also need to avoid eating food that has high uric acid content. It’s the same with diabetes. A change in diet can help control the symptoms of diabetes.

Another lifestyle change is to get enough exercise on a regular basis. Performing the same movements regularly can help the feet become accustomed to the motions. If you live a sedentary lifestyle for a certain period and then decide to engage in physically demanding exercises, your feet will take a lot of stress.


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