When your heels hurt, your arches ache or your toes are tender, it's hard to put your best foot forward.  Fixing foot pain starts with determining what's causing it.  We've got your foot pain primer to help you take the first step toward feeling better.

Feet are complicated structures made of 26 bones, 33 joint, over a hundred tendons, ligaments and muscles and an intricate network of blood vessels, nerves, skin and soft tissue. The most common foot pain complaints involve the heel, ankle, arches, ball of the foot and toes. 

Heel/Ankle Pain - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says most heel pain is caused by repetitive or excessive heel pounding, resulting in these sources for foot pain:

  • Plantar fasciitis - inflamed connective tissue in the sole of the feet causes pain from heel to toe. It's caused by poor arch support, quick turns that stress the foot, extra-tight calf muscles, damage from long-distance running or pronation (a variation on a natural gait pattern).
  • Bone spurs - smooth areas of extra bone growth that irritate other heel structures.
  • Bursitis - inflammation of the back of the heel caused by impact, stress or shoe pressure.
  • Achilles tendinitis - inflammation of the large tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel, commonly caused by running and other sports.
  • Calluses - thick areas of hardened skin that form in areas of friction or pressure.

Arch Pain hurts on the inside edge of the sole, usually due to "fallen arches" or flat feet. The foot arch either grew that way during development or has lost support, which makes the arch sag or bones to fuse together. Most people with flat feet have no pain or problems, but some have significant pain from childhood through adulthood if the arch comes in contact with the ground.

Ball of Foot Pain is often caused by shoes that force the foot forward (high heels) where weight and pressure are unevenly distributed on the ball.  It can also be caused by Morton's neuroma. This condition is characterized by tissue that thickens and swells around a nerve in the ball of the foot. When pressure is applied from walking or wearing the wrong shoe, it sends tingling, sharp, shooting or burning pains to the ball and sometimes toes.

Toe Pain is often caused by wearing shoes that crowd toes. It can also be caused by:

  • Bunions - red, calloused skin or a bony bump on the inside edge of your big toe.  The toe turns inward toward the other toes, causing joint pain.
  • Hammer toes that curl downward into a claw-like position.
  • Corns - thick areas of hard skin.

What You Can Do

Wear shoes with good arch support and shock absorption and try the National Institutes of Health home care suggestions:

  • Apply ice after activities that aggravate pain.
  • Elevate feet whenever possible.
  • Reduce activities until pain improves.
  • Wear footpads in areas of friction or pressure.
  • Try over-the-counter pain medicine.
  • Soak calluses in warm water and rub them down with a pumice stone. Do NOT cut or burn corns or calluses.
  • Try arch supports, orthotics or shoe inserts

Call your doctor when you have:

  • Sudden, severe pain.
  • Pain following an injury - especially if there's bleeding, bruising, deformity, or inability to bear weight.
  • Joint redness or swelling, an open sore or ulcer on the foot or fever.
  • Diabetes or peripheral vascular disease
  • No improvement with self-care within 1 to 2 weeks.


National Institutes of Health

Foot Pain


National Podiatric Medical Association

Foot Health Topics