Foot Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Prognosis

A woman holds her foot because she suffers from foot pain


The foot is a complicated anatomical structure of the body. They are strong and potent as they carry the weight of the body. The foot arch is the major structure that controls the level of ground force transmitted to the body.

Foot pain can severely interfere with the normal activities and when it happens, it’s recommended to seek medical attention immediately. The foot, since it’s an intricate network of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, it can be susceptible to injury and the wear and tear of the structures. Foot pain can affect any part of the foot and treatment will rely on the underlying condition or cause.

There are many causes of foot pain whether it be arthritis, injury or inflammation.
The feet are the weight bearing part of the body. It’s so powerful that it can carry the weight of the body and even perform various activities like walking, running, and standing.

However, the foot also has the ankle, which is also a weight-bearing joint. The joints, for instance, are the body’s hinges. They provide a broad range of motion throughout the body, allowing the person to bend, rotate, swing and much more. Each joint has many parts, too. It consists of the ligaments, cartilage and synovial fluid, a lubricating fluid, which all work together to provide a cushion between bones.


Foot pain can be caused by a wide array of factors:

Lifestyle – Wearing shoes that are not comfortable is one of the primary reasons for foot pain. Also, for women, wearing high-heeled shoes for prolonged periods can put too much pressure on the toes. Also, people who are fond of sports like running or those who engage in aerobics, foot pain is common.

Underlying health conditions – Pain can emerge if you have a medical condition that can cause foot pain. The most common include diabetes, nerve damage, foot sores or ulcers,  and clogged arteries in the extremities.

Risk factors – You are at a higher risk of developing foot pain if you are overweight, obese, had a foot injury or pregnant.

The other possible causes include:


Pain and tenderness are the indicators that something is wrong in a particular part of the body. The most common symptoms of foot pain include:

  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Shooting pain


The doctor will conduct a comprehensive medical history interview and a thorough physical assessment to diagnose the condition. Proper evaluation and diagnosis of foot pain are vital in planning the course of treatment. A good guideline is to compare the uninjured side of the foot to the injured side.

Injury can be seen as a gap or lump felt in the affected area. There are four stages of pain during activity, before and after activity, before, during and after athletic activity which affects performance and pain so severe it can make performance impossible.

Physical assessment – The physical assessment ankle pain involves the doctor looking at the affected foot and touching them to look for areas of tenderness, pain, and swelling.

Medical history – The doctor will assess the medical history of the patient through questions about the symptoms, the severity of the symptoms and the nature of work or activity that may put a strain on the feet.

Imaging tests – Imaging tests can help diagnose foot problems. This may also show fractures and other abnormalities.

The most commonly used imaging test is the X-ray, which can show fractures, the condition of the joint space, and the presence of bone spurs. Another imaging test is the computed tomography scan or CT scan, which creates 3D cross-sectional images of the internal part of the foot. This can show the soft tissues such as ligaments, muscles and the cartilage.

A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also provide photos of the internal structures of the soft tissues, bones, and some areas where there is inflammation. Lastly, the bone scan, which requires the injection of radioactive material, will show the condition of the bones to detect fractures and bone growths.

Laboratory tests – If the condition is caused by arthritis, bone tests and joint fluid analysis may be required for examination.


If the foot pain is caused by an injury, there are ways to provide immediate at-home treatment and relief for ankle pain. This is called the RICE method, which includes:

Ice – Put a cold compress on the ankle for about 20 minutes at a time. Repeat this procedure three times a day.

Rest – Do not put weight on the ankle and try to move as little as possible. You can use walking aids if you feel better.

Compression – For injured foot,  wrap the foot with an elastic bandage. However, do not wrap them too tightly to still provide circulation to the injured area.

Elevation – Elevate the affected leg and keep the foot raised above the heart level.

Devices  – Walking with a painful foot is difficult and uncomfortable. Using crutches and walkers are helpful until the pain subsides. The doctor may also recommend using bandages or sports tape to support the affected foot.

Surgery – In more severe cases, surgery is needed. Usually, surgery is needed to reconstruct a ligament and repair a ligament that won’t work. In rare cases, surgery can be used in severe fractures where screws are needed to keep the bones intact and to prevent further damage to the area affected.

Therapy  – Once the pain and inflammation subside, therapy us needed to restore the foot’s range of motion, stability, flexibility, and strength.

Medications  – The common medicines used to treat ankle pain are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, analgesics and over-the-counter pain relievers. Make sure these are still prescribed by licensed doctors to prevent complications and adverse side effects.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)NSAIDs have more than a dozen various medicines and some are available even without a prescription. However, it is important to still get the prescription from a licensed doctor.  

Corticosteroids – Steroid medications are used to reduce inflammation in the affected area.

Analgesics – Analgesics provide pain relief, particularly before, during and after activity.


Choose proper fitting footwear:

The following tips will help you choose the proper footwear and the shoes that fit properly:

  • Do not choose shoe size on the product because some brands have different shoe sizes. Choose shoes that fit your foot and which are most comfortable.
  • Measure both feet because some people may have feet that are not the same regarding
  • Choose a shoe that conforms to your foot shape. Do not try to fit your broad shoe shape to a narrow shoe, because this will put extra pressure on the joints.
  • Regularly fit your shoes because of the feet size changes when one gets older or during pregnancy.
  • Walk with the shoes on to make sure they feel comfortable.
  • Stand when measuring your feet or fitting your shoes. There should be an extra space for the longest toe to become comfortable.
  • Do not use shoes that are too tight or too loose.

Prevent foot pain and injury through the following preventive measures:

  • Be careful and watch your step when walking or running, particularly on surfaces with uneven levels
  • Warm up before any exercise or sports activities
  • Use an ankle support or brace on your previously injured or weak ankle.
  • Do not use high-heeled shoes if you’re not used to them
  • Do not play sports if you’re not well-conditioned
  • Maintain good muscle flexibility and muscle strength
  • Use shoes that are ideal for various activities
  • Practice balance and stability exercises
  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you’re overweight or obese
  • Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Do stretch exercises.


The prognosis of foot pain depends on the underlying cause of the illness. If the cause of foot pain is an acute injury such as a fracture or sprain, the recovery period depends on the severity of the injury. Sprains are less severe than fractures. Hence, they recover faster.

On the other hand, arthritis is a chronic condition wherein the patient may experience pain for long periods, depending on the type of arthritis. Gout arthritis is more severe in terms of pain but it can only happen during attacks. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, is more chronic and permanent, particularly in those individuals who are older.

For other foot pain causes like bone cancer, the prognosis depends on the stage of cancer. If the cancer is localized, the prognosis is better. However, for late stage or advanced stage cancer, wherein the cancer cells traveled to the other parts of the body, the prognosis is worse.