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Because of the complex nature of the foot, it is subject to a wide variety of conditions.

Conditions That Occur Anywhere on the Foot

Tendinopathy is an injury to a tendon. A tendon connects muscle to bone and helps move joints. Tendinopathy includes:

  • Tendinitis—An inflammation of the tendon. Although this term is used often, most cases of tendinopathy are not associated with significant inflammation.
  • Tendinosis—Microtears in the tendon tissue with no significant inflammation.

Tendinopathy is generally the result of overuse or repetitive motion. The strain on the tendon causes tiny tears in the tissue that accumulate over time.


A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments bind bones to one another. Sprains can be caused by overstretching a ligament during activity, or it can occur during a traumatic injury, such as a fall. They vary in severity, up to and including a complete tear.


Fractures are broken bones. They can occur during athletic activity, be the result of a fall, or a traumatic accident. Fractures also occur as a result of conditions that weaken bones, such as osteoporosis . Severity of the fracture depends on the type and location of the break.


Infections that occur on the skin or in soft tissue can spread to the bones if left untreated. Infections that affect the foot can be bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic. Organisms can enter the body from a break in the skin as a result of a scratch, cut, or ulcer. People with diabetes have to be especially careful of any wound or injury to their feet. Signs of infection include warmth, redness, drainage, and discomfort.


Foot pain may be a sign of a more serious health condition that is affecting the entire body. Some examples include:

  • Diabetes—People with diabetes have an increased risk of foot ulcers and neuropathy , a serious condition in which nerve function is reduced creating less sensation.
  • Osteoporosis—Reduction in bone mass may cause fractures in the foot or ankle.
  • Arthritis —Joint pain and inflammation which can affect one or both sides of your body.
  • Gout —Build up of uric acid crystals in the big toe joint causes pain and inflammation.
Toe Pain
Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses are thickened layers of skin. They are caused by irritation. The skin is usually cone-shaped and has a knobby core that points in. This core can put pressure on the thin skin under it and cause sharp pain. Corns can develop on top of or between your toes. Soft corns develop between your toes. They are kept flexible by the moisture from sweat. Calluses develop on the bottom of your foot. Corns and calluses develop as a result of friction from the toes rubbing together or against the shoe. Calluses can also develop anywhere on the foot.

A Corn

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Corns are a result of:

  • Shoes, socks, or stockings that fit too tightly around the toes
  • Pressure on the toes from high-heeled shoes
  • Deformed and crooked toes

Calluses are a result of:

  • Poorly fitting shoes
  • Walking regularly on hard surfaces
  • Flat feet

Note: If you have diabetes, having calluses is a strong sign of future ulceration. Especially if you have a history of foot ulcers. Contact your doctor.

Bursitis of the Toe

Bursitis is an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that protect your toe joints, particularly the big toe. It often occurs as a result of irritation from rubbing.

Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails can occur on any toe. They are most common on the big toe. They can develop due to tight-fitting or narrow shoes. These put too much pressure on the outside of your big toe. This forces the nail to grow into the flesh of your toe. Incorrect toenail trimming can also add to the risk of developing an ingrown toenail. Other conditions that can lead to ingrown toenails include:

  • Injury to the toe
  • Abnormalities in the structure of the foot
  • Repeated impact on the toenail from the shoe during high-impact exercise

A bunion is a painful swelling. It is the result of the movement of the base of the big toe away from the smaller toes. At the same time, the top of the big toe moves toward the smaller toes. This may cause the head of the metatarsal bone to stick out and rub against the side of your shoe. The tissue under it becomes inflamed. A painful swelling forms. Bone growth may occur at the site of irritation.


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Bunions can be caused by a number of conditions:

  • Injury in the joint
  • Genetics, which may play a role in some cases
  • Narrow high-heeled shoes with pointed toes, which can put great pressure on the front of your foot

A hammertoe is a permanent deformity of your toe joint. With hammertoe, your toe bends up slightly and then curls downward, resting on its tip. When forced into this position long enough, the tendons of your toe contract and it stiffens into a hammer, or claw-like, shape.


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A hammertoe is most common in the second toe. However, it may develop in any or all of your three middle toes if they are pushed forward in a shoe and do not have enough room to lie flat.

Hammertoes are often caused by wearing shoes that are too short.

Forefoot Pain

Neuromas occur when a nerve, or the tissue surrounding the nerve, becomes enlarged and inflamed. One symptom is a burning or tingling sensation. Another symptom is cramping in the front of your foot. This condition can be caused by:

  • Tight, poorly fitting shoes
  • Injury, especially repetitive pounding of feet
  • Arthritis
  • Abnormal bone structure

Morton's neuroma is the most common neuroma of the foot. It develops when the metatarsal bones in the middle toes pinch the nerve that runs between them.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture in your foot usually occurs in one of the five metatarsal bones. It is most common in the second or third. These fractures are caused by overuse during strenuous exercise, particularly running and other high-impact aerobic sports.


Sesamoiditis is a condition involving the sesamoid bones. These are small bones under the head of the first metatarsal bone. The sesamoid bones carry a great amount of weight. The bones and tissue around it can become inflamed and irritated. Sesamoiditis injuries are common among people who do high-impact activities. These include ballet dancing, running, and aerobic exercise.


When a cause cannot be determined, any pain on the ball of the foot is generally referred to as metatarsalgia . It is most likely caused by poor footwear or by high-impact activities. People with a high arched foot are more likely to develop metatarsalgia.

Midfoot Pain
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome results from compression of a nerve that runs through a narrow passage. It goes behind your inner anklebone down to your heel. It may be caused by injury to your ankle, such as a sprain or fracture. It may also be caused by a growth that presses against the nerve.

Excessive Pronation

Pronation is the normal motion that allows your foot to adapt to uneven walking surfaces and to absorb shock. When you have too much pronation, the outside your foot turns upward. This flattens your arch. It also stretches and pulls the fascia. It can cause foot pain. It can also affect the way you walk. This can lead to problems in the hip, knee, and lower back.

Heel Pain

The heel is the largest bone in the foot. Heel pain is the most common foot problem. It can occur in the front, back, or bottom of the heel.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis occurs from small tears and inflammation in the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a ligament-like structure that stretches from the heel to the ball of your foot. It supports the arch of your foot and helps to serve as a shock absorber.

Side View of the Foot

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Plantar fasciitis is usually a result of overuse during high-impact exercise and sports, especially running. Because the condition often occurs in only one foot, factors other than overuse may be responsible in some cases. Other factors that may increase the risk of this injury include obesity, tight calf muscles, poorly fitting shoes, or an uneven stride.

Pain is often mainly around the undersurface of the heel. It often spreads to your arch. The condition can be temporary. It may become chronic if you ignore it. Resting usually provides relief. The pain may return.

Heel Spurs

Heel spurs are bony growths that stick out from the bottom of the heel bone. They are parallel to the ground. The spur occurs where the plantar fascia attaches. The pain in that area is due to irritation of the attachment. There is a nerve that runs close to this area and may contribute to the pain which occurs. There are many people with heel spurs who have no symptoms at all.

Haglunds Deformity

Haglunds deformity is a bony growth on the back of the heel bone. It irritates the bursa and the skin behind the heel bone. It is commonly called a "pump bump." It develops when the back of your shoe repeatedly rubs against the back of the heel. This irritates the bursa and skin that is above the bone.

Achilles Tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy is degeneration of the tendon that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. There are two common types of tendinopathy: tendinosis and tendinitis. Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendon. Although the term tendinitis is used more often, tendinopathies are more likely to be a tendinosis, with no inflammation. The tendon suffers excessive stress and internal injury. A small area undergoes degeneration. Small internal tears may develop. Achilles tendinopathy occurs mostly in people who do high-impact exercise, particularly running, racquetball, and tennis. People with calf muscle tightness are at more risk.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture can occur in the heel. It is caused by overuse during strenuous exercise, particularly running and high-impact aerobics. Stress fractures are common in military training.

Arch and Bottom-of-the-Foot Pain
Flat Foot

Flat foot is a defect of your foot that eliminates the arch. The condition is most often inherited. However, arches can also “fall” in adulthood. This condition is sometimes referred to as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). This occurs most often in women over 50. But, it can occur in anyone. Overall, normally occurring flat feet in adults do not cause many functional problems. Many great athletes have done very well with this condition.

Abnormally High Arches

An overly high arch can cause problems. This is also known as cavus foot. The cavus foot is much less common than the flat foot.


Arthritis of the foot and ankle. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: Updated September 2008. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Bunion. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 31, 2014. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Corn. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated June 10, 2010. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Fractures (broken bones). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: Updated October 2012. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Gout. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 27, 2014. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Hammer toe. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 25, 2010. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Joint pain in the foot. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons Foot Health Facts website. Available at: Accessed February 11, 2014.

Heel pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: Updated September 2012. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Ingrown toenail. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated August 17, 2012. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Pes planus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 12, 2010. Accessed February 11, 2014.

Last reviewed March 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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