Stop Living with Foot Pain

Every day millions of people are living with foot pain; some individuals are finding ways to deal with minor discomfort while others are struggling with the reality that they may never walk, or walk comfortably, again. Even though foot pain is one of the most common complaints that people have, this knowledge does little to relieve the daily struggle of coping with discomfort. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to diagnose and treat a multitude of problems, which means that most people can stop living with foot pain altogether and get on with their lives.

When discussing and analyzing foot pain it’s important to remember that this type of discomfort can affect the whole foot, the toes (one or several at a time), the ankle, the heel of the foot, the ball of the foot, and/or the arch. If you are experiencing pain in any of these areas then you are considered to be experiencing foot pain. If the pain persists for several days, if it worsens, or if additional symptoms begin to appear then you need to see your doctor or a podiatrist. Proper foot care is essential to everyone’s health and it is absolutely crucial to people living with diabetes.

This is an overview of the general nature and common causes of foot pain as well as an introduction to the most recommended non-invasive treatments used on minor pain. The information is neither exhaustive nor a medical prescription for treatment; it simply indicates the nature of foot pain and the most conservative methods of treatment available to help alleviate the discomfort caused by minor ailments.

The Facts

There is less information available on this subject than there is for other medical conditions, but here are a few statistics that can help contextualize the nature and prevalence of people living with foot pain:

• The single most common reason for doctor’s visits and medical care is foot pain.
• More than seven million people are hospitalized in the United States every year for orthopedic problems specifically related to the feet.
• One in seven people are afflicted with orthopedic foot problems.
• Musculoskeletal disorders, including feet and ankle problems, cost insurance companies billions of dollars each year.
As you can see, foot pain is an expensive, time-consuming problem that affects millions of people every day, but there are reasonable solutions to both minor issues and those involving more in-depth treatment.

How Foot Pain is Categorized

Foot pain of every origin is organized under six broad categories in order to classify the underlying cause of distress. The six categories are as follows:
• Acquired Pain: This type of discomfort is the result of physical stress and/or minor mechanical and structural changes within the foot.

• Arthritis Pain: This is one of the most common reasons for foot pain, and when there is pain in both feet there is an increased likelihood that other joints throughout the body are also being afflicted by inflammation.• Congenital Deformities: This type of foot problem is present at birth and includes conditions such as Talipes Equinovarus (clubfoot), Congenital Vertical Talus (rocker-bottom foot), and Tarsal Coalition (paroneal spastic flatfoot).

• Infection: Fungal infections of the foot are common and toenails are unsightly and slightly difficult to treat. Bacterial and viral infections occur less frequently and require immediate care.

• Neoplastic Disorders: These disorders are usually referred as tumors, and include both the malignant and benign growths.

• Trauma: This type of pain refers to injury of the foot and/or ankle.

Index of Common Causes of Living with Foot Pain

Because foot pain refers to discomfort not only in the feet but the ankle area as well it’s impossible to provide an exhaustive list of every possible affliction, but we can provide an index that covers the most common causes of foot pain:

• Bunions: Bunions refer to a severe misalignment of the bone and joint at the base of the big toe that causes the telltale ‘bump’ on the inside of the foot.

• Flat Foot: This condition refers to a foot with little or no arch, and while people with this disorder may not feel pain directly they often experience satellite issues that occur due to the abnormal structure of the foot.

• Hammertoe: Also referred to as ‘mallet-toe’ this ailment occurs when the tip of the toe bends downward and becomes permanently bent into a hammer shape. Hammertoe occurs frequently in the second toe.

• Heel Spurs: This type of foot pain is often debilitating as it is caused by bone growths that develop when the plantar tendon pulls away from the heel bone causing bone calcifications that lead to spurs.

• Ingrown Toenails: This is usually caused by improper cutting of the nail, which leads to the nail growing into the surrounding soft tissues. The skin of the toe then begins to grow over the nail, which can lead to pain and infection. Fungal infections, injury, genetic predisposition, and in some cases improper foot wear can also contribute to the development of ingrown toenails.

• Neuromas: This occurs when there is a thickening of nerve tissue and when it occurs in the foot it is called a ‘Morton’s’ neuroma. It’s usually found between the bones at the ball of the foot and can cause sensations of tingling, burning, numbness, and the feeling that there is something in the ball of your foot.

• Plantar Fasciitis: A painful condition in which the plantar fascia – a thick band tissue that runs from the ball to the heel of the foot—becomes inflamed. The effects of overuse and wear and tear can build up gradually or they can occur because of an immediate injury.

• Sesamoiditis: Sesamoids are bones that are either connected to tendons only or embedded in muscle; they do not connect to other bones at the joints. There are two sesamoids on the underside of the foot near our big toe and like all other bones they can fracture and/or become irritated or inflamed. When this happens it’s called sesamoiditis, and it is a type of tendonitis.

• Stress Fractures: Stress fractures occur when the muscles are overly tired and can no longer absorb the shock of the foot repeatedly hitting the ground, such as in a game of basketball or activities such as ballet. When this happens small cracks or fractures can appear in the bone; hence the name ‘stress fracture’.

• Tendonitis: This painful condition occurs when the tendons in the foot become irritated and inflamed from overuse or because of tissue degeneration. Tendonitis frequently occurs in the Achilles tendon, which can cause pain to radiate down into the foot and which requires attention due to the level of discomfort that it generally causes.

The above list is by no means exhaustive; it is simply a summary of the most common causes of foot pain in the majority of cases. The following lists of causes of foot pain are either seen less frequently or they are the result of genetics and therefore present at birth. Nonetheless, they all cause foot pain to various degrees and most create secondary symptoms such as inflammation, discolorations, tenderness, and immobility issues as well.

Again, this list is not exhaustive but it is extensive in its coverage of less common causes of foot pain:

• Charcot Foot (Diabetic Foot): A weakening of the foot bones that occurs because of a serious amount of nerve damage.
• Claw Toe: An imbalance of tendons in the toe that causes the middle joint to ‘draw-up’ and freezing the toe into a claw like position.
• Clubfoot: When the feet point downward and inward. It is present at birth.
• Hallux Rigidus (Stiff Big Toe): A degenerative condition that begins with a ‘frozen’ big toe.
• In-Toeing: When the feet turn inward instead of facing forward. Also referred to as “pigeon-toed.”
• Lederhose’s Disease: A rare form of fibromatosis that causes benign nodules to grow at the arch of the foot.
• Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: A rare form of peripheral neuropathy in which a loss of movement or sensation occurs in the foot from damage to the tibial nerve.
• Torn Achilles Tendon: The Achilles tendon is a thick band of tissue that connects your calf muscle to your heel bone that can tear either partially or completely when overstretched.
• Vertical Talus: When the talus bone in the foot develops improperly and other foot bones have developed on top of it causing the front of the feet to point up, sometimes so severely that they may actually touch the shins. Also referred to as “rocker bottom.”

Stop Living with Foot Pain: Suggested Treatments

There are many non-invasive treatments available to people suffering from foot pain, and for those whose suffering is not relieved by these suggestions there are many more options to be found in doctors’ offices or through a podiatrist. Most doctors and specialists will first recommend trying non-invasive or ‘conservative’ treatments for pain, and only when these options are exhausted will they move on to riskier procedures.

The exact treatment that your doctor or podiatrist recommends depends on the cause and severity of the foot pain being addressed, the overall health of the patient, any additional foot problems that may be present, and your own personal preferences.

Here is a list that outlines some of the most frequently used approaches for treating foot pain:

• Icing the inflamed/injured area.
• Bracing the injured or unstable bone or joint.
• Shoe Inserts/Orthotics; both store bought and custom made
• Stretching Exercises
• Painkillers
• Topical creams, gels, and lotions
• Rest and immobilization
• Modifying foot wear (ensuring adequate support, room and cushioning)
• Cortisone Injections in inflamed muscles or tendons
• Rehabilitation/Physical Therapy
• Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy
• Surgery

Conclusion

There are several approaches that can be applied to help you stop living with foot pain, no matter what the cause of the discomfort is. It’s always best to start with non-invasive treatments such as rest, ice, stretching and rehabilitation before moving on to more serious procedures. While most foot pain is not indicative of another medical issue it should also never be ignored because there are times when it will manifest due to a more serious underlying cause, and diabetics should never minimize the significance of foot pain under any circumstances. One final note: good foot health means good health in general and there is never any harm in making sure that you take care of your feet before problems arise.

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