Everyone has had a minor problem with a toe, foot, or ankle. Most of the time
our body movements do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms
develop from everyday wear and tear or overuse. Toe, foot, or ankle problems
can also occur from injuries or the natural process of aging.
toes, feet, or ankles may burn, sting, hurt, feel tired, sore, stiff, numb,
tingly, hot, or cold. You may have had a "charley horse" (muscle cramp) in your foot while lying in bed at night. Your feet or ankles may
change color or
swell. You may have noticed an embarrassing
odor from your feet. Some changes in your feet and
ankles are normal
as a person ages or
during pregnancy. Home treatment is usually all that
is needed to relieve your symptoms.
Toe, foot, or ankle problems
may be caused by an injury. If you think an injury caused your problem, see the
Toe, Foot, or Ankle Injuries. But there are many noninjury causes of toe,
foot, or ankle problems.
Most skin problems that affect your
feet are more annoying than they are serious. If you have:
- The feeling of walking on pebbles: You may have
plantar warts on the bottom of your
- Patches of thick and tough skin on the heel or ball of your
foot: You may have a
callus, corn, blister, or skin
- Red, peeling, cracking, burning, and itchy skin between
your toes or on the bottom of your feet: You may have
athlete's foot. Or maybe your feet are reacting to the
shoes you are wearing (shoe dermatitis).
swollen, and painful skin around a toenail: You may have an
ingrown nail or an infection around your nail (paronychia).
- Red, swollen soles of your
feet that are painful to the touch or when you walk: You may have a bacterial
infection. Public showers, hot tubs, or swimming pools are common areas where
bacterial infections, athlete's foot, and
warts can be spread to your feet.
Toe joints are more likely to
develop problems than other joints in your feet.
- Heat, pain, redness, swelling, and extreme
tenderness that comes on quickly in your big toe joint may be caused by
gout. Similar symptoms can occur with an
- If you have swelling or a bump
at the base of your big toe, you may have a
- If you have a bump on the outside
of your little toe, you may have a
bunionette , also called a Tailor's
- If your toes, other than your big toes, bend in an odd
position, you may have
hammer toes, mallet toes, or claw toes .
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are
common when you have conditions such as
lupus, or gout.
You may develop pain in the front (ball) of your
foot (metatarsalgia) or in your heel. Heel problems commonly
occur when you overuse calf muscles, wear shoes with high heels, or participate
in activities, such as running, that cause repeated pounding on your heels.
- Sharp pain on the bottom of your heel may be
- Pain in the back of
your heel and
ankle may be caused by
Achilles tendinitis or tendinosis (tendinopathy) or
- Pain that is
worse before or after exercise but improves during exercise may be caused by a
stress fracture of a bone in your foot (usually a
- Small bony growths under your heel bone may be a
- Pain in your midfoot may be
caused by "fallen arches" or by being
- Pain or a bump on the back of the heel is a type of bursitis called Haglund's deformity.
Numbness or tingling
Many conditions may affect the
nerves of the foot and cause numbness, tingling, and burning.
- Pain, burning, tingling, or numbness that
occurs between your toes, especially the third and fourth toes, and in the ball
of your foot may be caused by a growth around the nerves (Morton's neuroma).
- Pain, numbness, and
tingling that begins in your back or buttock, moves down your leg, and into
your foot may be
sciatica, caused by a pinched nerve (nerve root
- Foot and ankle pain that occurs with numbness and
weakness in your foot may be caused by a pinched nerve in your ankle (tarsal tunnel syndrome) or back (sciatica).
- Burning, numbness, or lack of feeling in your feet may be caused
by poor circulation, especially in people who have
peripheral arterial disease. The circulation problem
can lead to nerve damage (peripheral neuropathies). Foot problems are more likely to develop in people who
have these conditions.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
Most minor toe, foot, or ankle
problems go away on their own. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to
relieve your pain, swelling, and stiffness.
- If you have swelling, be sure to
remove all rings , anklets, or any other jewelry that goes around your leg or ankle.
It will be harder to remove your jewelry if swelling increases, which
in turn can cause other serious problems, such as nerve compression or
restricted blood flow.
rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) for pain and
- Stop, change, or take a break from any activities that
cause your symptoms.
- Avoid "running through the pain," which may
increase damage to your foot.
- Consider changing your exercise
routine if you think running or another high-impact sport is causing your foot
pain. Switch temporarily to a low-impact exercise activity, such as
cross-country skiing, stair-climbing machines, bicycling (regular or
stationary), rowing, or swimming.
- Use sensible
sports training techniques, such as wearing the right
shoes and stretching before activities.
- Gently massage your feet to reduce discomfort,
relax your feet, and promote circulation.
- Wear comfortable and
supportive shoes and socks. See
tips on good footwear to learn how to choose the right shoes for
- Consider using an
orthotic shoe device, such as an arch support, to help
relieve your foot pain.
heel-cord exercises to increase your strength and
flexibility if your heel or heel cord (Achilles tendon) is tight and painful.
This may help relieve your heel pain.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your pain:|
- Acetaminophen, such as
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
- Ibuprofen, such as Advil or
- Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
- Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
| Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
- Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than the
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
- Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Try home treatment for these other foot problems such
- Foot cramps. Try the following home treatment to
help relieve leg cramps:
- Straighten your leg.
- Hold your
foot and pull it toward you. It is probably easiest to do this from a sitting
position. You can loop a towel around the end of your foot and pull it toward
you if you have trouble reaching your foot.
- Gently rub or massage
- Calluses and
corns . Home treatment may help relieve discomfort from
corns, calluses, or other thickened skin:
- To thin a corn or callus, rub the thickened
skin with a towel after a shower or bath.
- Use a pumice stone after
bathing to reduce the tissue. Do not do this if you have
peripheral arterial disease, or an
immune system problem, or if you have been told that you have
poor circulation in your feet.
- Pad pressure areas with
moleskin patches, or lamb's wool.
- Never cut corns or calluses.
Infection may develop.
- Some lotions and
moisturizers may also relieve symptoms from corns and calluses.
- Blisters. Home treatment for blisters
depends on whether the blister is small or large and whether it has broken
open. See a picture of
- Swollen ankles and feet. Try the
following home treatment measures to reduce swelling in your ankles and feet:
- Elevate swollen feet and ankles on a
footstool or pillows (above the level of your heart) when sitting for any
length of time.
- Get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour
if you sit for any length of time.
- Cut down on your salt (sodium) intake or make a salt substitute. Sodium can be hidden in foods such as
cheese, canned soups, and salad dressing. Talk to your doctor before trying a
If you are diagnosed with a foot problem, other home treatment steps may help.
- If your varicose veins are swollen or
uncomfortable, see the topic
- If your feet are peeling,
cracking, itching, and burning from athlete's foot, see the topic
- If you have warts on your
feet, see the topic
Warts and Plantar Warts.
- If you have heel
pain, see the topic
Achilles Tendon Problems.
- If you have bent
toes, see the topic
Hammer, Claw, and Mallet Toes.
- If you have
calluses or corns, see the topic
Calluses and Corns.
- If you have pain in
the arch of your foot, see the topic
- If you have pain in
the midfoot or arch, see the topic
Flatfoot (Pes Planus).
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Check your symptoms if any of the following occur during home
- Pain or swelling develops.
- Signs of infection develop.
tingling, or cool, pale skin develops.
- Symptoms continue despite
- Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
The following tips may prevent toe, foot,
or ankle problems.
- Bathe your feet daily in lukewarm (not hot)
water. Use a mild soap, preferably one containing moisturizers, or use a
- Avoid problems by wearing good footwear. Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. Support weak or unstable ankles by using a brace or
taping before exercise or activities that increase your risk of
- Wear the correct size panty hose and stockings. Avoid
wearing constricting garters, knee-high, or thigh-high
- Use a rubber mat to stand on if your work requires you
to stand on hard surfaces. This may reduce stress on your
- Maintain a reasonable weight for your height.
stretching exercises for the tendons at the back of
the heels. This is especially important for athletes before sports activities
but is also helpful for people who are not involved with
- Walk regularly to improve circulation, increase
flexibility, reduce fatigue, and encourage bone and muscle
- Establish good exercise habits and
sports training techniques.
consulting a sports-training specialist if you are a competitive or serious
recreational athlete. He or she can recommend training and conditioning
programs to prevent foot problems.
Foot care tips
- Never cut
calluses and corns with a razor or a pocketknife. Use
nonprescription toe sleeves or toe spacers to prevent
- Prevent foot problems if you have
- Prevent foot cramps with proper
- Prevent plantar warts with proper
- Prevent athlete's foot by taking care of your
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What are your main symptoms?
- How long
have you had your symptoms?
- What were you doing when your symptoms
- Have you had this problem in the past? If so, do you know
what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated?
activities related to sports, work, or your lifestyle, make your symptoms
better or worse?
- Did foot problems begin after you started wearing
- What home treatment have you tried? Did it
- What nonprescription medicines have you taken? Did they
- Have you started any new medicines or have you had a change
in the dosage of a medicine?
- Do you have any
- Cold Temperature Exposure
- Leg Problems, Noninjury
- Nail Problems and Injuries
- Pregnancy-Related Problems
- Rash, Age 11 and Younger
- Rash, Age 12 and Older
|By: ||Healthwise Staff ||Last Revised: October 1, 2012|
|Medical Review: ||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine