Common Causes of Foot Pain

A photo of a woman's feet.

Avoid Foot Flaws

Three out of four Americans will experience a common foot problem in their lifetime. Therefore, you're not alone. These conditions can be painful and embarrassing. However, the vast majority of these ailments result from neglect, lack of awareness, and improper care. Very few people are born with foot conditions. Learning to recognize and treat common foot problems will keep your feet healthy and happy!

A photo of a bunion with an inset X-ray image.


A bunion is a bony bump at the base of the big toe. Joint mal-alignment that can become larger over time causes bunions. It causes the big toe to deviate toward the others. A bunion can be very painful due to pressure and/or arthritis and lead to instability of other joints in the foot. Anti-inflammatory medications, pads, wider toe-box shoes, and less heel height may help. Custom shoe inserts (functional orthotics) can address the overall instability of the foot and may slow down the progression of the bunion. However, when conservative treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgery to correct the bunion deformity may be indicated.

A side-by-side composite photo of corn and callus on the foot.

Corns and Calluses

Friction and pressure cause corns and calluses. Corns are calluses impacted into the skin and are often small, round, and painful to pressure. Calluses typically appear at the ball of the foot and heel. Ill-fitting shoes or foot deformities such as hammertoes and bunions can cause corns and calluses. Pads can help relieve a painful corn or callus as well as periodic trimming by a podiatrist. In some cases, it's necessary for the patient to get custom shoe inserts (functional orthotics) or surgery to correct the underlying deformity causing the corn or callus.

A photo of a red and swollen foot caused by gout.


Characteristics of gout include redness, swelling, sudden pain, and stiffness, most commonly in the large joint of the big toe. Gout can also occur in the foot, ankle or knees. Gout is the result of too much uric acid (UA) in the body, which crystalizes in the joints and causes pain. Acute attacks can last days or weeks; physicians treat gout with oral ant-inflammatory medication and/or cortisone injection. It's possible to prevent continued acute attacks by managing one's diet and/or taking UA-lowering medication. A doctor can develop a treatment plan that is best suited for each patient. Untreated, gout can become chronic and damage joints to a point where surgery is inevitable.

A close-up photo of plantar warts.

Plantar Warts

Plantar warts are viral infections that develop callused growths on the soles of the feet. Contagious, they're often spread via public pools and showers. They are often painful and appear as round, isolated growths or spread in a geographic pattern (mosaic plantar wart). Though they are harmless, physicians recommend treatment of plantar warts. Topical salicylic acid may help, while burning, freezing, laser therapy, and surgical removal are more aggressive and sometimes necessary options.

A photo of interdigital athlete's foot.

Athlete's Foot

A fungal infection that can cause peeling, redness, itching, burning, and sometimes blisters and sores, athlete's foot is mildly contagious, passed by direct contact, or by walking barefoot in areas such as spas, locker rooms, and pools. The fungi then grow in damp, moist areas such as in shoes, especially ones without air circulation. Treatment of athlete's foot includes topical antifungal lotions or oral medications for more severe cases. It may be possible to prevent athlete's foot by alternating two to three different pairs of shoes to let them air out for a couple of days, as well as wearing breathable socks and shoes.

A photo of a toenail with a fungal infection.

Fungal Nail Infection

Occurring when microscopic fungi enter through a break in the nail or surrounding skin, a fungal infection can make your nails thick, discolored, and brittle. If left untreated, a fungal infection can spread to other nails. Thriving in warm, wet places such as shoes, pool decks, spas, and gyms, the fungi can be spread from person to person. It may begin from contracting athlete's foot or incurring an injury to the nail, allowing an opportunity for the fungi to invade the nail. Treatment may involve applying topical antifungal creams, taking oral antifungal medications, or undergoing laser therapy.

A photo of hammertoes.


When muscles controlling the toes get out of balance, they can cause painful toe contractures of the joints. While some people are prone to hammertoes because of underlying abnormal foot function, other causes include ill-fitting footwear. A hammertoe typically causes the middle joint of the toe to bend downward, with the toe appearing raised near the foot. Properly fitting shoes with a wider toe box, custom orthotic shoe inserts, periodic associated callus trimming, and surgery may offer relief.

A photo of an ingrown toenail on the big toe.

Ingrown Toenail

A toenail that has grown into the skin, an ingrown toenail can result in pain, redness, swelling, and even infection. Cutting nails too short or not straight across, injury to the toenail, and wearing ill-fitting shoes are culprits. However, for some people, it is an inherited trait or caused from an underlying deformity such as a bunion. For mild cases, soaking the foot in warm water with Epsom salts and keeping the nail covered with an antibiotic ointment and Band-Aid may help. Many times, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo surgery to remove the part of the nail either temporarily or permanently.

A photo of a flat foot (pen planus).

Flatfoot (Pes Planus)

Flatfoot is a condition characterized by the sole of the foot coming into complete or near-complete contact with the ground when weight bearing. It may be inherited, caused by an injury, or by a condition such as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. Treatment includes supportive shoes, custom orthotic shoe inserts, and in progressive symptomatic cases, surgical correction.



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  • American Podiatric Medical Association
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