Tell Me Where It Hurts: Foot Conditions by Anatomical Site
Foot pain can be…well, a pain. The area of pain that is affected gives clues to what may be going on. Most foot pain is due to ill-fitting shoes, wear and tear over time, and medical conditions.
Tingling in the toes can be due to wearing tight shoes, but it can also be due to diabetes which damages the tiny vessels and nerves in the toes. It can also be due to vitamin B 12 deficiency, which can even be the result of alcohol which interferes with normal absorption of this vitamin.
Pain of the toe itself can be a sign of arthritis, especially if it involves the big toe. This is called sesamoiditis and is at the base of the toe, which is painful and stiff. While gout can occur anywhere in the body (I have even seen it in elbows, ankles and knees), the big toe is most often affected. Gout causes tiny crystals within the tissue. There is warmth, redness, and the area is VERY tender. There are treatments for these conditions, and it is certainly worth the appointment! Remember: gout can be due to lifestyle habits such as alcohol and a diet high in meat, to name a few.
Shoes that are too tight in length or width can cause a variety of problems. When pain and deformity develops at the side of the foot near the base of the big toe (or small toe), this is usually a bunion. Tight shoes and wearing flip flops where you must grip the shoe with the toes can also lead to hammer toes, where the toe slowly develops a bent appearance. Another common problem is corns and calluses from tight or shoes that produce repetitive friction of one area. These can often be treated at home, but at times, a corn is deep within the tissue and has to be cut away.
Around the nail, an ingrown toenail might be the culprit. Only cut the nails straight across, not curved at the edges. A fungus of the toenail can make the nail brittle, yellow, and make it loosen from the nailbed. Usually pedicures from a salon that does not properly clean their equipment can be the cause. There are many home remedies, as well as prescribed medication, but many times this condition returns over time.
On the top of the foot, there can be the development of pain, usually occurring in an athlete. A stress fracture in this mid-foot area is subtle but painful. Although you are able to walk or exercise, pain is never normal, and it really should be evaluated by your doctor.
Pain along the ball of the foot can be a condition called Morton’s neuroma (usually near the base of the second toe) or metatarsalgia along the entire ball of the foot. It may produce a deep, nerve-like pain when standing or walking. If special shoe inserts (orthotics) are not helpful, or if the pain is severe, some find that seeing a Podiatrist is helpful.
Along the sole of the foot, and particularly in the arch, some develop plantar faciitis. The pain is worse when you get out of bed, and seems to improve a little in the first hour. Wearing shoes that have no arch support can make it worse. Prolonged standing and being overweight also worsens this condition. There are exercises that may help, as well as using an anti-inflammatory medication, but limit this to one week. See your healthcare provider if the area remains painful.
In the back of the heel, pain can be caused by several things. Heel spurs, or bony points that develop can irritate the foot over time. If the Achilles tendon is inflamed, the area can swell and even become red. This is very painful. These conditions should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
To avoid foot pain, evaluate the shoes that you wear. Is there a pattern of wear in one area? If you wear the same shoes daily, consider changing them every day. This allows the interior of the shoe to dry so there is less risk of developing athlete's foot. It also changes the friction on your foot if it is a different shoe. Avoid very high heels or very narrow, pointed shoes. Women have many problems including ankle, knee, hip and back pain as well as foot issues from this type of footwear.
While these examples cover common things, they do not explain all foot problems. If you have pain that persists, see your healthcare provider. If you have nerve damage of the feet or diabetes, avoid injuries by always wearing shoes or slippers. Studies have shown that checking the feet daily and caring for them properly has reduced amputations in those who have these conditions by 85 percent!