Heel to Toe Advice on Treating Foot Pain
By Rinsa Mathews, DPM, Podiatrist - Virtua Foot and Ankle
Wearing heels (or flip-flops or Uggs) aren't the only things that causes foot pain.
Your feet are the foundation that supports your entire body—and many stressors can lead to injury and pain. Whether you’re experiencing pain in your heels, midfoot, arches or the balls of your feet, the location of your pain can provide important clues about the cause and how to treat it.
What causes pain in the ball of the foot?
Pain in the ball of the foot is known as metatarsalgia, and it occurs when increased pressure is placed on the front of your foot. Beyond pain, other symptoms include numbness, tingling and inflammation. Common causes include wearing high heels or shoes that lack proper support or cushioning, participating in high-impact exercise, and carrying excess body weight.
Older people may experience metatarsalgia because the fat pad on the ball of the foot can deteriorate with age. If you have naturally high arches, you also may be more likely to experience pain in the ball of your foot.
How is pain in the ball of the foot treated?
If you have pain in the ball of your foot, your doctor will examine your foot and discuss your symptoms with you. Your doctor may want to take X-rays to rule out a stress fracture, which is a tiny crack in the bone caused by overuse. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend several treatment options, including:
- Applying ice to your foot
- Elevating your foot
- Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen
- Resting your foot
- Stretching your Achilles tendon
- Adding padding to your shoes
- Avoiding high heels
What causes pain in the midfoot?
Your midfoot contains very small bones and multiple joints. Often, pain in this area is caused by trauma or arthritis. Stress fractures and strains are very common, but pain also can be from everyday wear and tear.
How is pain in the midfoot treated?
To promote healing, treatment for stress fractures and strains in the midfoot often involves immobilization with a cast or brace. If you’re suffering from arthritis in your midfoot, treatment usually focuses on pain relief. Bracing your foot or increasing the stiffness and arch support of your shoes can help relieve pain. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to fuse your joints together.
What causes pain in the arches and heels?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. The plantar fascia is a ligament that runs across the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel to your toes. Overuse or repeated strain results in small tears and swelling in the fascia.
Plantar fasciitis causes a stabbing pain in your heel that typically occurs with your first steps in the morning because your fascia contracts while you sleep. As you move around and the fascia stretches out, the pain typically decreases.
Pain in your heels and arches also can be caused by flat feet, which is an anatomical condition that causes the arches on the insides of your feet to be flat. In some instances, pain also can be the result of large bony protrusions called heel spurs on the underside of your feet.
How is pain in the heels and arches treated?
The first step in plantar fasciitis treatment usually involves reducing inflammation using an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen. If your plantar fasciitis is related to repetitive exercise, you can sometimes improve symptoms by changing your workout and doing different activities.
For additional arch support, you can wear orthotics. Orthotics are inserts that slip into your shoes that help correct foot and ankle problems. You also can do special exercises to stretch the fascia and Achilles tendon to provide relief for your plantar fasciitis.
If your heel pain doesn’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may recommend steroid injections or Graston physical therapy, which involves using special instruments to mobilize soft tissues in various areas of your body. Your doctor may also take an X-ray to rule out stress fractures or other problems, such as heel spurs.
How to prevent overall foot pain
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent foot pain. If you have persistent foot pain or suffer from a condition such as flat feet or high arches, your doctor might recommend custom orthotic inserts that will allow you to wear different types of shoes comfortably. You also can prevent foot pain with the following:
- Avoid high heels.
- Wear the right shoes for the right activity (sneakers for exercise, boots for hiking).
- Avoid walking barefoot.
- Wear supportive shoes.
- Wear shoes that provide cushioning and shock absorption in the heel and ball of the foot.
You can take simple steps today to prevent foot injury and pain. Following these guidelines will ensure that your feet provide you with a firm foundation throughout your life.
Updated September 4, 2019