Foot pain can have many different causes, and sometimes the actual cause is not immediately clear if the pain feels like it is spread over a wide area. Fortunately, the nature of the pain itself can sometimes provide a clue as to the actual origin. It is not uncommon in cases where pain is felt in several areas of the foot at once that the doctor must rely on the type and timing of the pain to assist in making a proper diagnosis. Today I will discuss different types of foot pain and what they may reveal about its cause. Keep in mind, this is a general discussion about the cause of foot, and may not accurately reflect each individual case. Your actual symptoms need to be addressed by a podiatrist, as a foot exam is vital to making a proper diagnosis.
Throbbing or aching: This type of pain typically indicates inflammation from some type of injury. This can include sprains, strains, chronic injuries, bruises, or bone stress. It is probably the least specific type of pain.
Sharp or stabbing pain: These symptoms usually indicate a more significant injury, and a more focused area of injury. Conditions with sharp pain include tissue tears from more significant sprains, bone injuries (including fractures), nerve injuries, penetrating foreign objects, wounds and skin tears/lacerations, and more focused bruises or blunt injuries (like a crushing injury).
Ripping or tearing pain: The searing nature of this pain often means there is a ligament, tendon, or other similar tissue that is still in the process of tearing, pulling apart, or is otherwise unstable and needs to be immobilized.
Pain felt in the heel more in the morning or after getting out of a chair: This pain is usually associated with plantar fasciitis, a condition involving chronic injury to a ligament in the arch and heel.
Numbness, burning, electrical, or tingling when walking, but not when at rest: These symptoms may suggest a pinching or irritation of a nerve within the foot itself. When the pain is felt in the ball of the foot, it could suggest a neuroma, which is a thickened nerve near one of the toe bases that may also be accompanied by a sensation of a pebble or hot marble in the foot. When the pain is felt on the inner side of the ankle, heel, or in a general manner to the bottom of the foot or the toes, the issue could be with nerve pinching in an area called the tarsal tunnel. This condition is similar in nature to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist.
Numbness, burning, electrical, or tingling when sitting in a chair for awhile or lying down: These symptoms suggest that the back may be responsible for the foot pain. Lower back arthritis or a slipped disk can cause irritation to the branches of the spinal nerve that give sensation and muscle control to the legs and feet. When one is sitting or lying down, bending or strain on the back can cause these symptoms to appear. Additionally, many diseases that cause nerve dysfunction, such as diabetes, can create the above symptoms, particularly at night.
Constant, never ending foot pain worsened when the foot is elevated: This type of pain indicates poor circulation, and often is accompanied by leg pain when walking a short distance, cold and discolored feet, and thin skin.
Remember, always see your podiatrist when you develop foot pain that does not go away after a couple days. Foot pain is NOT normal at any age or activity level, and only indicates that something has been injured or is damaged. The above descriptions can serve as a general guide as to the basic nature of the problem, but only a physician’s foot exam can lead to the proper diagnosis. Your podiatrist is the best place to start, as your primary care/family doctor will only be versed in a few basic foot diseases/injuries and may not be able to recognize or quickly treat more complicated conditions.