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8 Painful Foot Conditions

Overview of the Most Common Causes and Types of Foot and Ankle Pain

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Updated July 07, 2014

Many of us have experienced the ache of a sprained ankle or the searing pain of a stubbed or broken toe. Aside from acute injuries such as these, some of the most common painful conditions that affect the foot and ankle include:

1. Heel Pain

Woman taking off shoes
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Heel pain is a common foot problem and has a number of possible causes. The most common cause is plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone. The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that spans the sole of the foot and provides shock absorption while walking.

Other frequent causes of heel pain include soft tissue inflammation, such as bursitis or a pinched nerve. In children, heel pain can be caused by strain on the heel bone's growth plate.

2. Nerve Problems

Occasionally, foot pain is caused by a pinched or irritated nerve. One type of pinched nerve, or nerve entrapment, that is often seen in the foot is called tarsal tunnel syndrome and is characterized by shooting or burning pain that radiates from the inside (big toe side) of the ankle into the arch and sole.

Another common nerve problem within the foot is a neuroma, which causes shooting pain between the toes -- most often between toes three and four. Some medical conditions result in peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage to the limbs. Symptoms of neuropathy include pain that radiates to the feet, often worse at night.

3. Metatarsalgia (Ball of the Foot Pain)

Metatarsalgia is pain in the area of the ball of the foot, which is given its shape by the rounded ends of the metatarsal bones. Many different conditions can cause metatarsalgia -- most often faulty foot functioning, overuse, or a decreased fat pad on the sole of the foot.

4. Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of a toenail grows or is pressed into the skin edge. It usually occurs at the edge of the big toenail as a result of shoe pressure. Even the smallest amount of ingrowing can be very painful. Besides pain, other signs of an ingrown toenail include red or swollen skin adjacent to the nail, which are signs of infection. The ingrown piece of nail is often unseen because it is buried beneath the skin.

5. Corns and Calluses

Calluses are thickened areas of skin over parts of the feet where excessive amounts of pressure or friction occur. Calluses at the heel can become painful if they fissure, or split open. Corns occur on the toes where they rub against the shoe. Sometimes the tiniest callus or corn can cause intense pain because it extends deep into the layers of the skin and presses on nerves. Corns and calluses also look similar to warts, which can be equally painful.

6. Tendonitis

Tendons are the cord-like structures that anchor muscles to bone. When they are over-stretched or over-used, tendonitis can occur. Tendonitis causes pain with activity or stretching, and the affected tendon is usually painful to the touch. Recurrent tendonitis may be a sign of tendon tearing and weakening, also known as tendinosis. Common types of tendonitis affecting the foot and ankle are: Achilles tendonitis, posterior tibial tendonitis, and peroneal tendonitis.

7. Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of cartilage within a joint from physical wear-and-tear. The joint damage manifests as decreased joint space, worn cartilage, and bone spurs surrounding the joint. The pain and lack of mobility from osteoarthritis are often experienced at the ankle joint, the subtalar joint (click for image), and the big toe joint. Other less common forms of arthritis that can cause foot pain include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus.

8. Bunions

A bunion is a large bump on the side of foot, just below the big toe joint. It's the result of the big toe shifting out of position over time and pressing against the second toe, which results in abnormal stress on the big toe joint and surrounding ligaments. Bunion pain can flare up on occasion and may be accompanied by bursitis (an inflamed pocket of fluid) over the bunion. Bunions can also occur on the pinkie toe side of the foot. For ideas on how to deal with bunion pain, see 5 Tips for Soothing Bunion Pain.

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