Causes of Foot Pain


Foot pain is one of the most common afflictions that affect people worldwide. Recent studies suggest that as many as 3 out of 4 people have suffered some form of foot pain over their lifetime. As people are living longer due to the reduction of infectious disease, there is now a greater incidence of overuse and age related diseases that come with this longevity. Just as any mechanical joint or structure will wear with use so does our body over time. Not only are foot problems painful but if left unattended they can threaten people’s mobility, independence and in some extreme cases their life. Foot pain and painful feet as a whole can be divided into three broad categories;

1. Biomechanical Foot Pain: Pain relating to poor function of the foot. This is the most common cause of foot pain. Due to the mechanical nature of this type of pain it usually gets worse with activity. Biomechanical problems are responsible for conditions such as metatarsalgia, plantar fasciitis and heel pain, knee pain and children’s growing pains.

For the foot to function correctly in gait (walking), it is imperative for it to be in an efficient neutral position (neither rolled in (overpronation) or out). The position and the structure of the foot will ultimately determine how it will function when walking. The foot can be placed in an inefficient position by the following factors; An abnormal foot alignment or shape, Excessive weight (obesity), Footwear faults – excessively worn footwear, high heels, tight shoes, poorly made shoes, Trauma – fractures, sprains, bruises etc. When any of these conditions are present they cause the foot to function inefficiently. Due to the repetitive nature of walking, any small abnormality in the foot is capable of causing wear and sore feet.

2. Infection and foot pain: Usually a microbial infection that enters the foot through any available portal (trauma site). Many forms of infection occur in the foot. These include bacterial infections (infect trauma sites), viral infections (warts), mycotic infections (fungal nails) and can cause pain and discomfort. Bacterial infections are possibly the most significant class, as they have the ability to cause death.

3. Systemic disease and foot pain:such as diabetes affecting blood supply and neural innovation. Most commonly foot pain is due to one or more of the above situations in combination, rather than in isolation. If any of the above listed possible causes of foot pain are ignored then the results of treatment may be limited.

The foot will be affected by systemic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and aids to mention a few. Each disease will affect the foot in its own unique way. Example 1 – Diabetes will affect the neural innovation and blood supply of the foot. This leads to a foot that will not feel trauma (nerve damage) and not heal well due to the lack of blood supply(blood vessel damage). This leaves the foot “at risk” of infection and the complications that infection can cause. Example 2 – Arthritis is another systemic disease that will affect all of the joints in the body including the feet. This will lead to significant pain and deformity in the foot especially when coupled with a mechanical abnormality.

When considering possible treatment for foot pain it is important to consider all of the above. Treatment can them be aimed at eliminating the most likely causes of the discomfort. Most commonly a combination of the 3 categories is responsible for the onset of foot pain. Custom orthotics can help to relieve biomechanical (mechanical) foot pain.