Foot pain is one of the most frequently reported musculoskeletal issues across the US. It’s estimated that at least 75% of Americans report at least one instance of serious foot pain issue over the course of their lifetime. A significant number of those reports have been observed to be by adults reporting restricted activities in their everyday life due to the pain. Because of the inherently complicated design of the foot and the highly demanding conditions that it has to withstand on a daily basis, a lot of pain-related issues can arise over time. However, an overwhelming majority of the causes of pain can be treated with the help of simple medication and a few sessions of in-person or online physical therapy for foot pain.
Understanding The Foot
Basically, the foot is the region of the body lying end of the calf to the end of the toes. It is the foundation of movement of the lower extremity of the human body. From the outside the foot might look like an uncomplicated structure, but beneath the skin of the foot lies a highly intricate structure that is necessary to enable normal movement. Despite its relatively small size compared to the rest of the body, a single foot includes 26 bones, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, and 33 joints.
The foot gets its unique design because of the bones aligning in two arch formations together, with the combination between the heels to the toes referred to as the longitudinal arc, and the upper part of the feet forming the width of the feet referred to as the transverse arch. The bones of the feet and the legs are connected by the ankle joint, while the bones within the foot are held together by other forming joints surrounded by joint capsules and are connected by ligaments. The longitudinal arch gets secondary support from the muscles and a sinewy tissue called the plantar fascia.
The bones and joints are further supported by a network of muscles and fat pads that primarily help with weight-bearing and absorbing impact. Furthermore, the tendons in the foot function together to provide a synchronized pull on any bone or joint structure in order to allow the foot to remain in optimal alignment. Finally, a covering of soft tissue structures like capsules, subcutaneous fat, dermal, and epidermal layers are present on the outer exterior of the foot, which help protect the internal structure from infection and trauma.
What Can Cause Foot Pain?
The foot is subject to some of the most intensive physical conditions within the human body. Besides taking the full weight of the entire body while in an upright position, the foot also has to withstand most of the opposing impact forces from the ground while facilitating the body’s movement. The several complex parts within the foot need to work in harmony for enabling normal movement to the human body. So any issue in one or other part of the feet can interfere in the complex interaction between the parts and cause problems in the normal functioning of the foot. Usually, it’s these problems that bring pain to the foot. The issues can be caused by a range of internal and external factors, which also include diseases, tissue damages, fractures, etc. A few pain issues in the feet may also origin from problems with other parts of the body as well. Any sensation of pain in the foot should be taken as an indication that there is probably something wrong in the area that needs to be addressed. The region, nature, and intensity of the pain are crucial in understanding the exact cause of the pain. Usually, the body reacts to the pain by changing the normal movement or functioning process to reduce the pain. These internal changes can also prevent normal functioning and bring further injury around the foot, and even other parts of the body.
Common Foot Pain Issues
Some of the most common foot pain issues are explained below:
1. Foot sprains: Foot sprains happen when the ligaments of the foot get torn. There can be three different ranges of sprains, ranging from mild tears or stretching that can be treated with rest and physical therapy, to complete tearing, which may need surgery and extended rehabilitation procedures.
2. Arthritis: Arthritis is a disease of the joint that causes swelling and pain in the joints, which causes stiffness, reduction in the range of movement, and joint deformity. It could be caused by diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or inflammatory arthritis. The disease more commonly affects people above 60. The general treatment can include a mixture of painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy.
3. Foot fractures: Foot fracture is often a painful condition caused by a structural injury within the bones of the foot. Some fractures can be tiny hairline fractures which can be treated with simple rest and some passive physical therapy, while others can be very severe and may require extensive surgeries.
4. Flat feet: Flat feet are, caused by the presence of low arches in the feet, which in some cases can cause radiating pain across the feet and even the lower back. Although the condition is quite widespread, affecting around 20% of adults, a lot of cases are asymptomatic. If the condition proves to be painful, however, one may need to visit a general physician or a podiatrist. In many cases, onsite or online physical therapy for ankle and foot pain may also be recommended to the patient.
5. Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is a common painful condition of the heels caused by sudden or chronic damage. It can affect as many as 1 in 10 people. Less severe conditions may be treated by rest, footwear changes, physical therapy, painkillers, and exercises. However, options up to surgery may be recommended by the podiatrist in severe cases.
6. Bunions: Bunions are bony deformities at the base of the big toe, which often cause it to point inwards. Bunions are a fairly common bony deformity, which causes the big toe to point inward. It’s experienced by over 20% of the adults. Some cases of bunions can be very painful and may require surgery if the pain interferes with walking.
7. Gout: Gout is a painful condition caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. It can cause swelling and stiffness in one or more joints and is usually accompanied by red, shiny skin. It’s more commonly observed in people above the age of 75. The treatment for gout often involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory colchicine or corticosteroids. Some significant lifestyle changes and prophylactic treatment may also be recommended to patients.
8. Athlete’s foot: Athlete’s foot is also a very common condition that is caused by a fungal infection, often in moist, warm conditions. The symptoms can include dry, red, scaly, flaky, itchy, and painful skin between the toes. Usually, the pain improves after a few days of treatment, but can also recur in the future.
9. Nail conditions: Fungal nail infection and ingrown toenails are two commonly observed conditions that cause pain in the nails. Both conditions can often be treated by maintaining better hygiene and specific medications, although some cases may need surgery.
Risk Factors for Developing Foot Pain
The following are some common risk factors for foot pain.
- Specific jobs: It’s been observed that people involved in occupations requiring repeated use of the feet like construction and food service tend to be at higher risk of a foot injury.
- Athletes: Athletes involved in high-impact exercises are at high risk of getting conditions like plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, sesamoiditis, Achilles tendinopathy, and stress fractures.
- Women: Women, in general, tend to be more at risk of some conditions of foot pain. Foot pain is fairly commonly reported by women above 65, while pregnant women can also have foot problems from weight gain and specific hormone releases that can weaken the soft tissues of the feet. Furthermore, the common usage of high-heeled shoes have also been observed to be making women more prone to foot pain.
- Smoking: Smokers tend to have delayed healing capacity compared to the normal population which can cause more painful foot problems.
- Obesity: People with more than average weight tend to put more stress on their feet that can increase the risk of foot or ankle injuries.
- Specific health problems: People with conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and gout are more prone to foot pain.
Physical Therapy for Foot Pain
Physical therapy is often used as a first-line treatment for treating a lot of foot and ankle problems. It can help in relieving and coping with pain, improving strength, improving flexibility, and improving the range of motion of the foot. It’s also commonly applied in patients recovering from foot or ankle surgery. Depending upon the condition of the pain and the physician’s recommendation, the physical therapist will develop a plan that can help in pain relief and recovery. While some procedures may require visits to physical therapy facilities, others can be treated with supervised online physical therapy for ankle and foot pain aided by active exercises.