14 Foot Pain Causes and How To Ease the Pain

Corns, heel spurs, tendonitis, or other conditions could be why you're in pain.

Our feet are the foundation for our entire body and serve us well, carrying us around 110,000 miles over an average lifetime, by some estimates. 

But with 26 bones, 33 joints, and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments, a lot can go wrong with those amazingly complex structures.

Whether your heels ache or you have toe troubles, here's how to step away from foot pain.

Heel Pain: Plantar Fasciitis


Heel pain is a common problem affecting the foot, and plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain.

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that connects the heel to the front of your foot and supports your arch. In the United States, about two million people are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis each year.

Repeated stress to the foot that strains the plantar fascia can lead to the condition. Pain often worsens after long periods of inactivity and goes away for a while as you begin to walk around. So, if the first step you take when you get out of bed in the morning feels like a sharp pain under your heel, you may have plantar fasciitis.

"The fascia relaxes when you're sleeping, and the swelling kicks in more," Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatric surgeon in Emerson, N.J., told Health. "Then, when you stand, you put all your body weight on this inflamed tissue."


"Plantar fasciitis is aggravated by tight muscles in your feet and calves," said Sutera. So, stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles several times throughout the day. 

Other treatments to reduce inflammation include the following:

  • Rest
  • Manage your pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
  • Ice
  • Consider seeing a physical therapist.

If your pain lingers longer than two weeks, see your healthcare provider, who may recommend physical therapy, cortisone injections, or a night splint.


To prevent plantar fasciitis, it may help to try some of the following techniques:

  • Wear shoes, even slippers, with good arch support.
  • Keep your ankle, Achilles tendon, and calf muscle flexible by stretching your plantar fascia daily.
  • Wear orthotics, especially if you are overweight or obese. Some evidence suggests that obesity is considered a significant factor in plantar fasciitis.

Heel Pain: Heel Spurs


Heel spurs are growths of extra bone that often happen with plantar fasciitis. With plantar fasciitis, heel spurs poke from the base of the heel. Sometimes, heel spurs occur with shoe irritation and appear at the back of the heel.

However, the heel spur is not the cause of pain. Instead, the underlying condition that brings about heel spurs, like plantar fasciitis, causes painful symptoms.

So, while heel spurs are not painful, those point calcifications are a sign of stress at the plantar fascia that irritate the surrounding tissue, said Dr. Sutera.

Common causes of heel spurs include repetitive trauma to the base of the heel, obesity, poorly fitting shoes, or genetics.


Heel spurs respond to the same treatments as plantar fasciitis, including:

  • Rest
  • Manage your pain with NSAIDs.
  • Ice
  • Stretch
  • Correct biomechanical problems with shoe inserts.


To prevent heel spurs, you can wear orthotics or shoe inserts to help the pressure that can lead to bone spurs.

Bottom of the Foot Pain: Plantar Warts


Do you ever feel like you have pebbles in your shoe? If so, check the soles of your feet for plantar warts.

One of the many forms of human papillomaviruses (HPV) infects the skin and creates plantar warts. But unlike other types of warts, plantar warts don't grow outward. Instead, the pressure from walking and standing causes them to grow into the skin, creating pain and tenderness on the bottom of your feet.

You may develop one wart, or they may occur in a cluster called mosaic warts. Because they're flat and rigid, it's easy to confuse plantar warts for calluses. Plantar warts are likelier to have black seed-like dots, which are small areas of dried blood, than calluses. 


Treatments may include the following:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) peeling medications with salicylic acid
  • Liquid nitrogen to freeze it off, which is done by a healthcare provider
  • Burning, scraping, cutting, or shaving it off, which is also done by a healthcare provider

Plantar warts can disappear without treatment, but it may take several years. 


Plantar warts are contagious. So, to avoid getting or spreading them, try some of the following techniques:

  • Wear flip-flops in locker rooms.
  • Don't touch someone else's plantar wart.
  • Keep plantar warts dry since moisture allows them to spread easily.

Bottom of the Foot Pain: Calluses


Calluses are thick, hard patches of skin that form over time as your body protects itself against a lot of rubbing or pressure. That buildup helps protect the underlying skin.

But don't confuse calluses with blisters, which have a watery liquid inside and tend to develop more quickly. When calluses appear on the feet, they're typically on the sole, ball, or heel of your feet and can be painful while standing or walking.

Ill-fitting shoes are usually the culprit. But how you walk may also cause extra pressure, which causes the skin to thicken.


You can take several steps to treat calluses, Sejal Shah, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York, told Health. Dr. Shah recommended the following treatments:

  • Use a pumice stone to remove the buildup of dead skin after bathing gently. But be careful not to take off too much skin.
  • Then, apply a moisturizer with salicylic acid, urea, or ammonium lactate twice a day to the area to gradually soften tough skin.
  • Avoid razors and scissors. You don't want to cut into living tissue and expose it to infection.
  • Avoid medically treated pads unless your healthcare provider advises you otherwise.


"Try to avoid any repetitive actions that may be causing the calluses," advised Dr. Shah.

You can also use cushioned pads to protect calluses from further irritation. To make them: Cut a piece of moleskin into two half-moon shapes and place them around the callus.

It's also essential to wear correctly fitting shoes and consider orthotics to correct any issues when you walk.

Toe Pain: Bunions


Unlike many foot problems, which are felt but not seen, it's easy to spot bunions. Bunions are the bony lumps that form at the base of the big toe. 

Faulty foot mechanics that affect the way you walk are usually the culprit. Years of abnormal motion and pressure on the joint in your big toe force the toe to tilt toward your second toe. As the bones are thrown out of alignment, the telltale bump appears.

The big-toe joint carries much of your weight while walking, so untreated bunions can cause severe and constant pain. The fluid-filled sac surrounding the joint can also become inflamed, making it worse.

People with certain foot types—flat feet, low arches, or feet that roll inward—are most likely to develop bunions than others. And since foot structure is often inherited, bunions tend to run in families.


Treatments for bunions include the following:

  • Wear shoes with a wide toe box and heels two inches or lower to reduce pain.
  • Place felt or foam pads over bunions to cushion the area and reduce pain.
  • Stretch

Surgery can also realign the joint and shave off the protruding bone if those options fail. But don't wait too long for surgery.

"Results may not be as good when the problem is too severe," advised Dr. Sutera. 


To prevent bunions, try doing some of the following:

  • Avoid shoes that crowd the toes, such as pointy shoes or high heels.
  • Wear the right shoes, or consider orthotics.
  • See a healthcare provider at the first sign of a bunion.

Toe Pain: Corns


Corns are thick layers of skin that grow in response to friction.

Soft corns occur on the parts of your feet that don't bear weight, such as the sides or tops of your toes. Hard corns, also known as intractable plantar keratosis (IPK), resemble calluses and occur on weight-bearing surfaces.

"[Corns are] usually small and circular with a well-defined center that can be hard or soft," explained Dr. Shah. Mushy corns also develop between the toes, where the skin is moist and sweaty.

Unlike blisters, which form quickly, corns develop over time due to repeated friction and can be painful when you walk or stand.


You can treat corns the same as you would calluses. Additionally, you can buff the affected area to remove the buildup of skin. Also, moisturizing regularly to soften the skin may help.


Corns can form when too-long toenails force the toes to push against your shoe. So, it may help to keep your toenails trimmed.

Toe Pain: Gout


Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that triggers a sudden episode of burning pain, stiffness, and swelling in a joint. Often, gout occurs in the joint of the big toe.

The guilty party in gout is an excess of uric acid, a substance that's naturally found in the body. While your body is usually good at regulating uric acid levels in your blood, too much can create crystals in joints.

A gout attack happens when something like an evening of drinking causes uric acid levels to spike or jostles the needle-like crystals in your joints. The pain usually strikes at night and intensifies over the next eight to 12 hours before easing after a few days. 

Gout is more common in men than women, and many people who have an attack will have a second one within a year.


Gout is a chronic condition, meaning it's long-lasting. But to prevent future attacks, your healthcare provider may do the following:

  • Examine your foot, order laboratory tests, and analyze your joint fluid.
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Suggest lifestyle changes—including changing your diet to lower your body's uric acid level.


The following tips can help you avoid flares:

  • Take any prescribed medication.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's recommendation for dietary and exercise changes.
  • Use self-management skills.
  • Get active.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid gout triggers.

Toe Pain: Hammertoes


If a toe, usually the second, third, or fourth, becomes bent upward in the middle in a V-shape so it looks like it could hammer a nail, you may have a hammertoe. If so, you're not alone. Hammertoe is one of the most common deformities of the front of your foot.  

Hammertoe often happens with other toe problems, like bunions or corns on the top of the bent toe, where it rubs against your shoe.

Some hammertoes develop over time from high-heeled or toe-cramping shoes that push the toes into a flexed position. Others may develop hammertoes due to foot structure or an imbalance of tendon strength, even despite wearing supportive shoes.

Initially, hammertoes are flexible and can be corrected. But if left untreated, your toe muscles cannot straighten, and the deformity can become permanent.


You may treat hammertoe by trying some of the following:

  • Buy shoes with soft, roomy toe boxes that can accommodate the hammertoe.
  • Place cushioned pads on the tops of hammertoes to prevent or limit corns.
  • Tape the bent and painful toe to a neighboring straight one (called "buddy taping"), or use straps and splints to keep a hammertoe in its correct place.
  • Get surgery if other methods fail.


To help prevent hammertoes, give some of the following a try:

  • Wear supportive shoes.
  • Avoid shoes with narrow or compressive toe boxes.
  • If needed, consider orthotics.

Toe Pain: Ingrown Toenails


Any toenail can become ingrown, but the painful problem commonly affects the big toe. When the nail grows into the surrounding skin, or the skin on one or both sides of it grows over the nail's edge, it creates an ingrown toenail.

The toe might throb and become red and swollen. But real agony sets in if the skin around the toenail becomes infected, which can happen if the nail pierces the skin.

"It causes so much pain with every step that people are literally tortured by it," explained Dr. Sutera.


Dr. Sutera recommended the following ways to treat ingrown toenails:

  • Soak your feet in warm water and Epsom salts to reduce inflammation. Then, gently nudge the skin away from the nail bed with a cotton swab and smooth the nail's corner with a new fine emery board.
  • Swab the area with antibiotic cream.
  • See a healthcare provider for swelling, redness, pus, or increased pain. Those symptoms may indicate infection.


You might get an ingrown toenail after injuring your toe. But too-tight shoes and poor nail-grooming habits are among the leading causes of ingrown nails. So, to prevent future problems, try some of the following:

  • Wear correctly fitting shoes.
  • Cut nails straight across.
  • File the corners into a slightly rounded shape and avoid "points" that can jab skin.

Toe Pain: Osteoarthritis


Almost everyone will eventually develop some degree of osteoarthritis (OA). It's caused by wear and tears on the cartilage, acting as a shock absorber between bones.

As the cartilage breaks down, bones rub against each other, causing pain and restricting movement. One of the most common sites of OA in the foot is the joint at the base of the big toe. 

Also, a bone spur can develop where the bones rub together. That overgrowth can keep the toe from bending as much as it needs to when you walk, resulting in a stiff big toe, technically called hallux limitus. With hallux limitus, the big toe has limited mobility, making alking, bending down, climbing, and standing painful.


There are many ways to ease the pain of OA, including:

  • Manage your pain with NSAIDs.
  • Exercise
  • Consider seeing a physical therapist.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

And if you don't find relief from those options, your healthcare provider may recommend a more aggressive treatment.

Treating hallux limitius is essential to avoid surgery. Also, if you develop hallux limitus, wearing orthopedic shoes with plenty of room and stiff soles may help. Also, custom orthotics can tailor to your foot and prevent arthritis from advancing. 

Ball of the Foot Pain: Fat Pad Atrophy


When the natural protective cushioning in the ball of your foot becomes diminished, it can feel like you're walking on rocks or standing right on the bones of the ball of the foot. Sadly, that thinning of the fat is common and permanent.

"Over time, you just wear out your fat pad, and you can't regrow fat," said Dr. Sutera.

Treatments and Prevention

To prevent the problem and keep it from progressing, try some of the following:

  • Avoid anything that puts pressure on the balls of your feet—including high heels and walking barefoot, especially on hard surfaces like cement.
  • Choose supportive footwear and padded socks that cushion your feet.
  • Replace high-impact activities like running with swimming or cycling.
  • Use cushioned pads or insoles to reduce pain.
  • Consider orthotics that can help support the foot, absorb shock, and evenly distribute weight.

Ball of the Foot Pain: Metatarsalgia


While not a diagnosis, metatarsalgia is a general term involving any condition that causes pain in the metatarsals, the midfoot bones that give your foot its arch. 

The pain strikes where the metatarsals attach the toes to the rest of the foot. Over time, the area becomes tender, like a toothache, and may be swollen. Though, the pain can also feel sharp or burning.

"Swelling occurs after a long period of wearing high heels or doing any kind of activity where you're pounding on the ball of the foot," explained Dr. Sutera. 

The pain generally worsens when you stand, run, flex your feet, or walk and improves while resting.


You can treat metatarsalgia by trying any of the following:

  • Consider seeing a physical therapist.
  • Wear orthotics.
  • Pick out shoes that fit correctly. 
  • If recommended by your healthcare provider, receive cortisone injections.


Preventing metatarsalgia may include any of the following techniques:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Wear correctly fitting shoes with toe boxes that are high and wide enough to allow your toes to spread.
  • Avoid high heels.
  • Wear padded socks.

Ball of the Foot Pain: Neuromas


A neuroma, commonly known as a pinched nerve, is inflammation or thickening of tissue around the nerve between the base of the toes.

People describe the pain as like having a stone in their shoe. Symptoms also include a burning sensation, tingling, or numbness between the toes and in the ball of the foot.

One of the most common neuromas is Morton's neuroma, which occurs at the base of the third and fourth toes.

Neuromas mainly occur in women who wear high heels, said Dr. Sutera. However, they can also develop due to injury, repetitive stress, or foot abnormalities like hammertoes, bunions, flat feet, and high arches.


Treating neuromas may include any of the following:

  • Wear shoes with low heels and a wide-toe box to prevent strain.
  • Use OTC shoe pads to reduce pressure.
  • Rest
  • Ice

Additionally, cortisone injections help if your healthcare provider recommends them.

And if left untreated, neuromas tend to worsen, so see a healthcare provider if you have one.


You can help prevent neuromas by trying any of the following techniques:

  • Ensure your exercise shoes have enough room in the front part of the shoe and that your toes are not excessively compressed.
  • Wear shoes with adequate padding in the ball of the foot.
  • Avoid prolonged time in shoes with a narrow toe box or heel heights greater than two inches.

Top of the Foot Pain: Tendinitis


Tendinitis is often an overuse injury in which the extensor tendons that straighten the toes become inflamed. Tendinitis is a common cause of pain on the top of the foot. 

"This area is very bony, so it's easy for all the tendons there to become inflamed," explained Dr. Sutera. "It could be from wearing strappy or badly fitting shoes, tying your laces too tight, walking too long—really anything that causes pressure because the area is so sensitive."


Treatments for tendonitis may include some of the following:

  • Limit walking and standing until the pain is gone.
  • Ice
  • Manage your pain with NSAIDs.
  • Wear supportive shoes.

And once the pain has subsided, try easing back into high-impact exercise.


Stretching and orthotics can help prevent tendonitis, but consult a healthcare provider if flares persist.

A Quick Review

Causes of foot pain vary by location and the type of pressure, injury, or infection you've sustained.

Because foot pain often starts with wearing the wrong kinds of shoes or no shoes, consider wearing shoes that fit correctly and have the proper support. Also, avoid anything that places too much pressure on your toes or the ball of your foot as much as possible.

The best thing you can do is identify the cause and try some home remedies, then reach out to a healthcare provider if your symptoms persist.

Was this page helpful?
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Plantar fasciitis.

  2. National Library of Medicine. Plantar fasciitis.

  3. Boules M, Batayyah E, Froylich D, et al. Effect of Surgical Weight Loss on Plantar Fasciitis and Health-Care UseJ Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2018;108(6):442-448. doi:10.7547/15-169

  4. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs.

  5. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Skin infections in athletes.

  6. Shahmoradi Z, Assaf F, Al Said H, Khosravani P, Hosseini SM. Topical pyruvic acid (70%) versus topical salicylic acid (16.7%) compound in treatment of plantar warts: A randomized controlled trialAdv Biomed Res. 2015;4:113. doi:10.4103/2277-9175.157833

  7. Warts: Overview. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2019.

  8. National Library of Medicine. Bunions.

  9. American Podiatric Medical Association. Bunions.

  10. Fenando A, Rednam M, Gujarathi R, Widrich J. Gout. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  11. American Podiatric Medical Association. Gout.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gout.

  13. American Podiatric Medical Association. Hammer Toes.

  14. American Podiatric Medical Association. Ingrown toenails.

  15. American Podiatric Medical Association. Arthritis.

  16. Charen DA, Markowitz JS, Cheung ZB, Matijakovich DJ, Chan JJ, Vulcano E. Overview of MetatarsalgiaOrthopedics. 2019;42(1):e138-e143. doi:10.3928/01477447-20181206-06

  17. Institute for Preventative Foot Health. Prevention and treatment of metatarsalgia.

  18. American Podiatric Medical Association. Neuromas.

  19. American Podiatric Medical Association. Tendinitis.

Related Articles