Oh, My Aching Feet! Caring for Common Foot Problems

Oh, My Aching Feet! Caring for Common Foot Problems

Oh, My Aching Feet! Caring for Common Foot Problems

There are many different foot problems, some serious and some that are easy to treat at home. The main thing is to take care of any problems before they get worse.

These are a few of the most common foot issues and how to take care of them.

Plantar Fasciitis

What it is: Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of a thick band of tissue from the heel bone to the arch of the foot. It’s very common in people who run, dance or even walk a lot on hard surfaces. The pain begins in the heel and often is worse when getting out of bed in the morning.

How to treat it: Rest, use a shoe insert that cushions the heel, and don’t try to “play through the pain.” Skip long walks on hard surfaces, and don’t do any impact activities such as jumping or running until the pain is gone. Ice the area and take ibuprofen or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever as directed. When you can exercise comfortably again, wear shoes that aren’t worn out. Take frequent stretch breaks.

When to see the doctor: If the pain does not get better with OTC pain medicine or if you still can’t get around like normal within a week because of the pain, see a doctor. Start with your primary care doctor, who can refer you to an orthopedist or podiatrist if needed.

Ankle Sprain

What is it: An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments when the ankle rolls or twists. It’s a common injury, especially in the summer when people tend to be more active and wear unstable shoes like flip flops and sandals, says Dr. Arnie Herbstman, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan medical director.

How to treat it: Take weight off the injured ankle right away. Then follow the rules of RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. Take OTC pain relievers as directed. Once the sprain is healed, physical therapy can strengthen the ankle and help prevent future injuries.

When to see the doctor: See a doctor as soon as possible if you cannot put weight on the foot so you can get the right treatment. Herbstman says it’s hard to tell without X-rays if the ankle is broken or sprained.

Bunion

What is it: A bunion is a painful, bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe. They mostly occur in women, Herbstman says. That’s because they are often caused by tight shoes and aggravated by high heels. Heredity can also be a risk factor.

How to treat it: Soak your feet in warm water, wear extra-wide shoes and avoid high heels. If the shoe feels too wide, wear an extra sock, which can provide an extra cushion. Sometimes surgery is needed, especially if there is a noticeable bump.

When to see the doctor: If the pain persists and doesn’t improve with home treatment, see your primary care physician. You may need to see a specialist to discuss treatment options.

Ingrown Toenail

What is it: An ingrown toenail is usually found in the big toe. It occurs when the corner of the nail grows into the skin of the toe. It can be very painful to the touch, especially if it is deep in the skin, and can lead to infection if not treated. It can be caused by several things — heredity, shoes that fit too tight in the toe, trimming the edges of the toenails too short, nails that are too curved or sustaining an injury to the toe.

How to treat it: Many ingrown toenails can be treated at home. Soak your feet in warm water for 15 minutes three times a day. After soaking, put fresh bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge. This helps the nail grow above that area. You also can put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on the sore area. When possible, wear sandals so the toe isn’t squeezed. Take OTC pain relievers as directed.

When to see the doctor: If your toe is very painful or the redness is spreading, see your doctor. There could be an infection that must be treated before it gets worse.

Arthritis

What is it: Arthritis is inflammation in your joints. Arthritis in the feet often feels like a dull ache in the middle of the foot or ankle, Herbstman says. It’s different from the sudden pain of an injury.

How to treat it: Most cases can be managed with lifestyle changes, OTC medicine and possibly a brace. But sometimes physical therapy or surgery is needed.

When to see the doctor: See your doctor if you are experiencing foot pain or swelling with no obvious cause. An X-ray can confirm arthritis.

Take Special Care If You Have Diabetes

People with diabetes have special needs when it comes to foot pain. If you have diabetes, it’s important to not go barefoot. People with diabetes often have numbness in their feet, so they may not feel an injury.

That’s because over time, diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet and lower your ability to feel pain. If you have had diabetes for a few years, and especially if you already know have less feeling in your feet, it’s important to check your feet regularly for cuts or ulcers that you may not feel. Make checking your feet part of your daily routine, like when you’re taking a shower or getting ready for bed

Learn more about how to care for your feet. leaving site icon And see your doctor for any kind of injury to your foot that won’t heal, like a cut or ingrown toenail. You also should let your doctor know about any other swelling, redness or pain in your feet.

Don’t Delay Getting Help for Foot Issues

Your feet play a big role in your health. The weight of your whole body and how you move rests on them. So any small problem with your feet can put your body out of alignment and cause other injuries.

Long lasting foot pain could be causing problems in your ankles, back, knees and hips because they all work together, says the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeonsleaving site icon

When you have foot pain, you start to walk in a different way. That gait change alters the way your joints move with each other. The cartilage in the joints can wear down and ligaments and tendons can be stressed beyond normal. So that pain in your lower back, knees or hips could be linked to your feet.

And when you walk, you put the force of as much as five times your body weight on each foot. If the foot doesn't absorb that shock or redistribute it properly, you can develop problems elsewhere. leaving site icon For example, flat feet or feet that roll outward can put stress on leg muscles and lead to problems in the hips.

If foot problems are interfering with your daily life, don’t wait to get help. Taking care of problems quickly can do more than get you back on your feet. It could save you from developing other painful health issues.

Sources: Foot pain: When to see the doctor, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2023; Plantar fasciitis, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2023; Ingrown toenails, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2022; Diabetic neuropathy, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2022; Sprained ankle, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2022; Bunions, leaving site icon  Mayo Clinic, 2021; Arthritis of the Foot and Ankle, leaving site icon  American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2019; That Pain in Your Back Could be Linked to Your Feet, leaving site icon American College or Foot and Ankle Surgeons; Knee Pain, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2023; Are Feet at Fault for Back, Hip, and Knee Woes?, leaving site icon University of Rochester Medical Center

 Originally published 4/11/2019; Revised 2021, 2024

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