Common Foot Problems

By Barbara Hales, M.D.
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Image of woman with foot pain problems being examined

What Are The Common Foot Problems?

 Running, jumping, walking and climbing can all wreak havoc on our feet, causing many problems ranging from inflammation or infection to injuries of bones, ligaments and muscles.

Three of the biggest risk factors include diabetes, aging and improper shoes.

The most common foot problems that people experience are:

  • Athlete’s foot-fungal skin infection typically seen between toes but it can spread further. Causes include wearing warm and damp shoes or walking around barefoot in public showers, gyms or pool areas.
  • Blisters- raised pockets of fluid, which occur after walking or running with improperly fitting shoes or sweaty feet.
  • Bunions- bumps formed at the large toe joint which can turn the big toe inward and typically forms due to wearing tight or narrow shoes. Rheumatoid arthritis and polio are also causes of bunion formation.
  • Claw toe- the first toe joint points up and the second toe join points down. It may be a sign of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cerebral palsy.
  • Corns- thickened skin of soles or toes which form to protect the skin from blister formation.
  • Diabetic neuropathy- damaged nerves of the foot from chronically high blood sugar.
  • Heel spur- deposit of calcium between the arch of the foot and the heel bone from chronic strain on muscles and ligaments, by obesity, arthritis and badly fitting shoes.
  • Ingrown toenails- a condition where the toenail grows into the nail groove causing symptoms. This stems from poorly fitting shoes, which are not wide enough, or improperly trimming the toenails.
  • Plantar fasciitis- most common cause of heel pain happens when the plantar fascia or ligament on the bottom of the foot that supports the foot’s arch, gets inflamed. The cause is not known but risk factors include obesity, high foot arch, and regular running, which apply stress to the heel.
  • Stone bruise- aka metatarsalgia, arises from ill-fitting shoes or after high-impact exercises affecting the area between toes and arch of the foot.

What Should I Expect From Common Foot Problems

 Symptoms from common foot problems vary but typically though uncomfortable, are not serious.

  • Athlete’s foot- symptoms include itching, blistering, peeling and blistering of the feet. While it typically starts between the toes, it can also cause cracks in the heels or involve the skin of the toes themselves.
  • Blisters- excess raised tissue filled with fluid. Pressure and pain can occur.
  • Bunions- can cause pain in the big toe when walking or tenderness around it, decreased toe movement, callus on the bone below the big toe, and a visible bump on the side of the foot.
  • Claw toe- may be congenital and asymptomatic or painful for some.
  • Corns- Patches of thick skin, which may become painful and can be caused by hammer toes, bunions or improperly fitting shoes.
  • Diabetic neuropathy- tingling, numbness and pain in the feet.
  • Heel spur- can be asymptomatic or be painful and inflamed.
  • Ingrown toenails- redness, swelling and pain of the toe. Drainage with swelling infers a present infection.
  • Plantar fasciitis-heel pain which increases with activity and rising from bed in the morning.
  • Stone bruise- The site between the foot arch and toes may feel numb with sporadic sharp pains (like a stone in your shoe when walking)

Treatment Options For Common Foot Problems

Treatment options for common foot problems vary depending on the foot condition but most treatments are conservative.

  • Athlete’s foot- Sprays, powders and lotions that fight fungus are available in supermarkets and drugstores, which can be applied to clean and dry feet. If the fungi still spreads or persists, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal drugs.
  • Blisters- Apply a bandage for relief and let them heal on their own.
  • Bunions- Conservative treatment includes ice packs for inflammation, bunion pads to protect against pressure, properly fitting shoes and avoiding high heels. Customized shoes with inserts or splints can attempt to straighten the big toe but if pain persists, surgery is possible to correct the problem.
  • Claw toe- Treatments include exercises, proper shoes, splints and drugs. Surgery will be recommended if pain is persistent and conservative therapies aren’t helpful.
  • Corns- Corn plasters are obtainable in the drugstore without a prescription and applying them relieves the pressure on the corn. Time heals them spontaneously.
  • Diabetic neuropathy- nerve damage cannot be reversed but control of blood sugar can prevent progression of this problem.
  • Heel spur- This can be treated with rest, cold packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications and orthotic shoe inserts.
  • Ingrown toenails- Bathe the feet using antibacterial soap and cut the toenails immediately after the bath in a squared fashion. Avoid shoes with pointy tips. If an infection persists, see a podiatrist for antibiotics and possible removal of the portion of offending toenail.
  • Plantar fasciitis- usually treated conservatively with ice packs to decrease inflammation, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, and resting the affected foot. Stretching during the day and before/after physical activities decreases heel pain as well as wearing shoes with good support. Physical therapy is advised for persistent symptoms and steroid shots can be given for decrease to inflammation.
  • Stone bruise- Treatment is typically ice pack application, rest and properly fitting shoes.
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