If you have a job that keeps you on your feet much of the workday, you probably have an insider’s knowledge of discomfort in your feet – oh, heck, let’s just cut out the niceties and call it what it is – foot pain! Such pain can be any one (or more) of more than a dozen common foot problems, any of which can make being a school teacher, a dentist, a hair stylist, or a sales associate in a clothing store always on the lookout for the next foot remedy, or at least a nice foot massage.
Until something goes wrong with one of your feet, or both at the same time, it’s easy to take them for granted. We stand, we walk, we run, we do whatever it takes while being vertical to get from Point A to Point B. Then we feel waves of annoyance to go with the pain when our feet start barking back at us, whether it’s a sore heel, a painful arch, or an ingrown toenail – and those aggravating conditions are probably at the bottom of the list of foot issues that can befall us.
Foot Pain: By the Numbers
Here’s a sobering fact when it comes to our feet: a recent survey of 1,000 grownups in America, conducted by the American Podiatric Medical Association, and cited at healthline.com, found that about half of the respondents admitted they were beset with some form of foot pain. That means even if you are in the clear, the person you see standing next to you or walking by or with you down the street or along a corridor probably has a foot issue.
Working on your feet much of the day can mean not only pain, but lost workdays on occasion, even without an actual injury like a sprain or fracture or tear. About 2.4 million workdays were lost in the United Kingdom in 2009 and 2010 because of lower-limb disorders. In many cases, the problem might simply be ill-fitting shoes or ones that offer little arch support.
A lot can go wrong with our feet – consider the opportunities available for foot injury because of the quantity of working parts contained in our feet. An “engineering marvel” is how prevention.com describes our feet. A foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles, all tasked with the duty to support our feet for a lifetime. Their TLC? That’s up to us, mostly. By the way, excess weight plays a part in foot pain: one study found that the foot-related complaints voiced by folks who lost an average of 90 pounds after bariatric surgery dropped by 83 percent.
Types of Foot Pain and Aches
Let’s be frank: a lot can go wrong with our feet. Here are some of the more common ailments:
- Big toe stiffness. Don’t laugh. Most of us push off with the big toe with each step we take, and the complaints swell the older we get. Also referred to as hallux rigidus, a form of arthritis.
- Buerger’s disease. Characterized by blockages in the blood vessels in the feet and hands.
- Bunion. A bony bump on the big toe. This is caused by the big toe leaning toward the second toe, and over time it can crowd together all our toes.
- Calluses. Similar to corns (see right below), but involve wider segments of tough skin buildup.
- Corns. Thick buildups of rough skin at a point of toe or foot irritation.
- Flat feet. Also referred to as fallen arches. Arches of the feet flatten out, causing foot pain.
- Gout/arthritis. Gout is a form of arthritis, per webmd.com, that produces pain in the toes, which can be accompanied by swelling. More than 8 million Americans a year suffer from this.
- Hammertoe. This is when one of your middle three toes bends at the middle joint, producing what looks like a mini-hammer. Ill-fitting shoes are a common culprit.
- Heel spurs. Abnormal growths of bone at the bottom of the heel. Bad shoes or abnormal gaits can be contributing factors.
- Ingrown toenails. This takes place when the edges or corners of a toenail grow into the skin next to them, per healthline.com, resulting in tenderness and redness, and sometimes bleeding.
- Metatarsalgia. Similar to a stone bruise (described below). Involves pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot.
- Morton’s neuroma. Occurs more often in women, probably from their wearing heels. Involves a thickening of tissue in the vicinity of the nerves at the base of the toes, often between the third and fourth toes.
- Neuropathy. In layman’s terms, nerve damage in the feet, usually related to diabetes. The sensation can feel like burning, stinging, or electricity.
- Plantar fasciitis. Heel pain resulting from irritation or inflammation of a band of tissue that connects the heel bones to the toes. Sufferers feel it most acutely when they first get out of bed in the morning.
- Sesamoiditis. Involves injured or inflamed tendons – sesamoids –that connect two bones near the big toe.
- Stone bruise. A deep bruise in the heel’s fatty part or ball of the foot. The pain feels like you are walking on a pebble.
Foot Pain Treatments
Each type of foot problem has its own recommended remedial actions, but here are a few that can cover or prevent a lot of the problems:
- Perform heel and foot muscle stretches. Ask your physician for some suggestions, or consider going to a podiatrist.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers.
- When buying shoes, focus on good arch support and cushioned soles.
- Ice and rest your feet after strenuous activity brings out the pain.
- Shoe inserts can relieve pressure on the balls of your feet. Good for “standing room only” professions or runners/joggers, among others.
- Steroid injections – per a physician’s care – can help with some of the above problems involving tendons.