Foot Conditions A-Z
Foot Pain and Soreness
Painful, sore feet are very common. According to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted by the NPD Group for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health, 61 percent of adults in the United States ages 21 and older (135 million people) have experienced foot pain, soreness or discomfort.
Soreness can affect any part of the foot, but often it can be traced to the weight-bearing areas--the forefoot (ball), and the rear foot (heel). These areas are protected on the plantar surface (bottom of the foot) by fat pads. Although these fat pads are thick and protective during infancy and childhood, by the time we reach our mid-thirties, they begin to deteriorate and lose their protective capability.
By age 50, people can lose as much as half of their fat padding in the ball and heel areas. Combined with fat pad loss, other physiological changes in the feet (weakening of muscles, loss of resiliency of tendons and ligaments, and spreading of the feet due to weight gain) make the feet more vulnerable to soreness and pain.
Soreness may also emanate from the arch area. Occasional soreness is harmless. But, if it worsens and becomes very painful, it can affect your ability to work, exercise or engage in recreational activities.
Causes of Soreness in the Forefoot
Many foot conditions can cause forefoot soreness, including the following:
- Arthritis – when the condition affects joints.
- Broken bones or stress fractures
- Bunion – a protrusion at the base of the big toe or little toe (“tailor’s bunion” or “bunionette”) that becomes inflamed.
- Bursitis – inflammation of the sacs that protect and cushion the joints.
- Calluses and Corns – thickened areas of skin that protect skin exposed to irritation.
- Gout – inflammation, often in the big toe area, caused by buildup of uric acid in the blood.
- Hammer toe – a toe that curls downward into a claw-like position.
- Ingrown toenail - when the corner or side of a toenail grows into the soft flesh of the toe.
- Metatarsalgia – soreness or pain in the ball of the foot due to impact or poor biomechanics.
- Morton's neuroma – nerve enlargement, usually between the third and fourth toes.
- Plantar wart – wart on the underside of the feet.
- Sesamoiditis – inflammation of the small sesamoid bones in the ball of the foot, just below the big toe.
- Sprains and Strains
- Tendinitis – inflammation of tendons in the foot.
Causes of Pain/Soreness in the Rear Foot or Heel Area
Some conditions that cause pain or soreness in the forefoot—broken bones, bruises, arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, plantar warts and stress fractures, among others—can also cause pain or soreness in the rear foot or heel area. Other causes of rear-foot pain may include the following:
- Plantar fasciitis – inflammation of the dense band of fibrous tissue that extends from the bottom of the heel bone to the ball of the foot.
- Heel spurs – bumps that develop on the edge of the heel bone.
- Haglund’s deformity (also called "pump bump") – bony enlargement at the back of the heel bone in the area where the Achilles tendon attaches to the bone.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome – a compression or squeezing of the tibial nerve that produces soreness or pain along the nerve running from the inside of the ankle into the rear foot.
Causes of Pain/Soreness in the Arch Area
Foot pain and soreness also may occur in the arch area of the foot. This is most often due to one of the following conditions:
- “Fallen” arches or flat feet (pes planus) – the feet overpronate (turn inward too much), causing soreness and discomfort from stress on the muscles and ligaments.
- Very high arches or inflexible feet (pes cavus) – often lead to muscle soreness and stiffness in the arch area.
- Plantar fasciitis, as described above.
Prevention and Treatment
IPFH suggests that the simplest way to avoid pain and soreness, especially if you are active, is to wear only properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with shoes with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional. Peer-reviewed, published studies have shown that wearing clinically tested padded socks can help protect against injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot, and thereby, pain and soreness.
Foot pain or soreness can often be dealt with on your own, with appropriate footwear, icing as necessary and anti-inflammatories as tolerated. If you still have symptoms, see a medical professional who can diagnosis the source of the pain and recommend treatment. If you have an accident or other traumatic injury to the foot, see your doctor or a foot specialist immediately.