We often tell people to “walk an extra mile” or “put your best foot forward” when they are about to initiate a journey in their lives.
The foot is the foundation of our standing and support as it connects us to the ground. Your feet act as cushions, absorbing pressure and transmitting the weight of your body to the ground as it stands upright against the force of gravity.
The foot along with the spine is armed with the ability to support mobility throughout your life as you walk, run, or exercise. Given the fact that an average person walks somewhere around 100,000 miles in their entire lifespan, a case of foot pain needs due consideration.
Foot pain is a common ailment that can affect all age groups and encompass the entire foot from its proximal to a distal end that includes the toes, sole, heel, and ankle.
What Causes Foot Pain?
Mild foot pain is a pretty run-of-the-mill situation and dies out on its own. It can happen as a result of excessive walking, prolonged periods of standing, fracture, mineral deficiency, ingrown toenails, and wearing shoes that are too tight, too high, too loose, or poorly designed.
The human foot is composed of over 26 bones, 33 joints, and 5 ligaments. Any injury in these structures can distort the anatomy or cause inflammation, resulting in foot pain that can become chronic.
Some common causes of foot pain include:
- Achilles tendinitis – Irritation in the Achilles tendon, found at the back of the heel.
- Bunions – Bony swelling of the big toe.
- Bursitis – Inflammation of the bursa.
- Corns and calluses – Both occur due to the hardening of the epidermal layer of the skin of the foot, although corns are more painful and smaller in size.
- Diabetic neuropathy – Nerve damage that can cause pain and numbness in your feet.
- Osteoarthritis – Joint inflammation.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – Autoimmune disease.
- Hammertoe and mallet toe – Caused by the contraction of the toe as a result of high heels and poorly designed shoes.
- Flat feet – The arch is not developed in the foot, causing the middle portion of the feet to touch the ground.
- Osteomyelitis – A bone infection.
- Plantar fasciitis – Inflammation of the tissue between the heel and the toes.
- Peripheral neuropathy – Injury in the nerves of the feet characterized by numbness, intense burning pain, and tingling sensations.
- Tendonitis – Inflammation of the tendon.
- Stress fractures – Hairline fractures in the ankle.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome – Foot pain caused by an irritation in the tibial nerve.
Treatment for Foot Pain
Standard treatments are directed towards evaluating the reason behind the foot pain.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce discomfort and pain. Using foot and ankle supports can help comfort the affected area. Once you experience pain, the first line of self-treatment should be:
- Adequate rest (24-48 hours)
- Hot/cold water compress
- Stretching the affected area
Tips and Remedies to Get Relief from Foot Pain
You can try these home remedies to heal your sore feet:
1. Apply Warm and Cold Compress
A warm compress can reduce foot pain by promoting recirculation of blood, and a cold-water treatment can reduce pain and inflammation.
An alternate therapy of warm and cold compress can alleviate your pain.
- Take two buckets and fill one with cold water and another with warm water. Dip your feet in the warm water for 3 minutes followed by a 1-minute dip in the cold water. Repeat this 2-3 times.
- Apply a hot pack and an ice pack alternating every 1 minute for 10 minutes.
2. Give Yourself a Foot Massage
- Use a little lotion or oil and gently massage your foot, focusing on the points that trigger pain. Use your thumb to knead on the surface and bottom of the foot, and stretch and flex your toes apart to encourage blood flow.
3. Use Ice to Reduce Swelling
- Take a plastic bag and fill it with a small amount of crushed ice. Apply this bag on the affected areas.
4. Stretch Your Foot
- Stretch your toes and ankles using your hands. You can also use a strap.
- Flex your toes upward and downward. Repeat this 10 times.
- Sit down and extend your legs. Move your toes around in a counterclockwise and clockwise direction. Do these 10 times.
5. Engage Your Feet in a Workout
- Rotate your ankles in a circular motion.
- Use your toes to pick up objects.
- Slowly rise up on your toes while standing.
- Use a frozen bottle, stress ball, or any similar object to roll the bottom of your feet on it.
6. Choose the Right Shoe
Ill-fitting shoes can cause foot pain and extend the pain to other joints such as the knee and hip.
Shoes that are too loose, too tight, or poorly designed can exacerbate foot pain, particularly in patients suffering from arthritis.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research highlighted the association of foot ailments such as foot pain, toe deformity, corns, and calluses to incorrect footwear. They found that about 63%-72% of participants were wearing improper footwear.
Choose a shoe with a:
- Good arch support
- Wide room for the toes
- Sufficient cushioning
7. Give Proper Rest to Your Feet
Give your feet some rest. Your feet might be aching as a result of all that standing, which can be an occupational hazard.
- Pull a chair and stretch your feet forwards. Pull your toes inward and outward for at least 10 minutes in a day.
8. Soak Your Feet in an Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salt can alleviate your foot pain instantly.
Soaking your feet in a warm water bath of Epsom salt can relax your feet and soothe the pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- In a tub of warm water, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of Epsom salt.
- Soak your feet in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Dry your feet and apply moisturizer to prevent dryness.
9. Try Using Arch Supports
To cushion your feet and keep them stable while you walk, try using a pair of over-the-counter arch supports for your feet.
A study published in Clinical Research on Foot & Ankle supported the use of a silicone heel pad and a soft insole with arch support in people with plantar fasciitis. These were effective in reducing heel pain and improving activity levels.
Consult a podiatrist to get expert advice on the kind of arch support you require.
10. Draw an Essential Oil Bath for Your Feet
- To a tub of warm water, add four drops each of eucalyptus oil and rosemary oil and two drops of peppermint oil.
- Soak your feet in it for about 10 minutes.
Anecdotal Remedies for Foot Pain
The following remedies are neither backed by scientific evidence nor are they reviewed by our health experts. Nonetheless, a number of general users have reported an improvement in their condition using these anecdotal remedies.
Clove Oil Massage can be Beneficial
- A gentle massage of clove oil can improve blood circulation and provide instant relief to your sore feet. Do this several times a day.
- If your skin is sensitive, dilute the clove oil. To three drops of clove oil, add 1 teaspoon of carrier oil such as extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil. Use this oil mixture to massage your feet.
Vinegar Treatment for Your Foot
Vinegar can provide instant relief to your feet by reducing inflammation.
- To a bucket of warm water, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of Epsom or table salt. Soak your feet in it for about 20 minutes.
Preventing Foot Pain
- Dispose of your worn-out shoes and switch to a comfortable pair.
- Avoid wearing pumps and high heels daily.
- Avoid standing for too long or standing on hard surfaces such as concrete. This can strain your muscles and cause foot pain.
- Give your feet regular breaks and stretch your toes.
- Never ignore any pain arising in the lower back, hips, knees, legs, or foot.
- Maintain a healthy body weight to avoid straining your foot.
When to See a Doctor
Foot pain needs a proper diagnosis to address the underlying cause. Visit your orthopedic physician or podiatrist if any of the following occurs:
- Swollen feet
- Pain, especially a persistent one
- Visible abnormalities in the foot
- Unable to walk
- Numbness and tingling
- Pain intensity that increases with time
- High temperature or swollen lymph nodes (may indicate infection)
The Final Word
The foot is the most underestimated part of your body despite bearing your entire body weight.
Although foot pain can be a result of everyday activities and can subside on its own, chronic foot pain can be associated with a variety of pathologies.
Aside from using medication, several home remedies can heal your feet naturally and help you take care of your foot. Consult your doctor for any underlying conditions that need special attention.
Go ahead and thank your feet for all of their support!
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Hai-En Peng (Podiatrist)
Is walking beneficial or harmful when suffering from foot pain?
Walking is generally beneficial but if your foot pain worsens with activity, then it’s a sign that something is wrong.
Is foot pain a sign of diabetes?
Not necessarily. You can have foot pain and not have diabetes. Foot pain associated with diabetes could be a sign of neuropathy which is a condition in which the nerves fire uncontrollably causing tingling, burning, and pain. The pain itself is not always a sign of diabetes.
What is the best way to reduce inflammation in the foot?
Icing works really well. Other methods include taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Advil or Aleve, acupuncture, or compression with an ace wrap.
What does foot pain that gets worse at night indicate?
It could be a sign of either poor circulation which causes foot pain when the feet is at the same level of the heart or it’s a sign of neuropathy which is nerve condition in which the nerves fire out of control and occurs mostly at night.
What precautions can be taken against foot pain?
Wear good supportive shoes. When starting a new exercise, start slowly and increase gradually. Stay in good health by seeing your doctor for annual physicals to keep the systemic diseases away like diabetes that if it goes uncontrolled can cause foot pain.
Please provide some additional tips and inputs on how to prevent and relieve foot pain.
Prevention is what I stated above. Wearing good supportive shoes and gradually increasing new exercise or activity can be extremely helpful in preventing foot pain. Once foot pain starts and if rest does not relieve it, please go see your nearest podiatrist for an evaluation.
About Dr. Hai-En Peng, Podiatrist: Dr. Peng was born in Nyack, NY and went to California College of Podiatric Medicine in San Francisco, CA. He spent the next 4 years there and graduated in the top 15% of his class. Dr. Peng also completed a 3-year advanced surgical residency in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery.
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