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Conditions InDepth: Foot Pain

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The foot is a complex structure of 26 bones, 33 joints, and many muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Only a small number of Americans are born with foot problems. Most problems develop due to neglect and poor care, including ill-fitting shoes. Some disorders begin early in life and are affected by heredity, walking patterns, and geography. However, most foot pain occurs as feet change with age or diseases develop over time. Most Americans will have foot pain at some point in their lives.

Normal Anatomy of the Left Foot
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Common causes of foot pain include:

  • Poor-fitting shoes
  • High-heeled shoes
  • Poor posture
  • High impact exercise (such as running)

Foot pain may also be caused by systemic disease, such as:

  • Arthritis (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)—Arthritis can cause stiffness and reduced range of motion.
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease—This condition affects the legs and feet by causing reduced blood flow, swelling, and increased risk of infection.
  • Diabetes —A common complication of diabetes is reduced blood flow, which causes a number of problems in the legs and feet including abnormal sensation, swelling, and increased risk of infection.
  • Gout —Gout may cause pain and swelling in the great toe.

For descriptions of many common types of foot pain, click here.

What are the risk factors for foot pain?What are the symptoms of foot pain?How is foot pain diagnosed?What are the treatments for foot pain?Are there screening tests for foot pain?How can I reduce my risk of foot pain?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with a bunion?Where can I get more information about foot pain?

Revision Information

  • Foot care. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/foot-care.html . Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Foot care. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/foot-care . Updated April 18, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Foot care 101. American Podiatric Medical Association site. Available at: http://www.apma.org/files/FileDownloads/myFEETFootCare101.pdf . Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Foot care basics: preventing and treating common foot conditions. Harvard Medical School website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/special%5Fhealth%5Freports/Foot%5FCare%5FBasics . Accessed December 28, 2012.