Foot Pain: What's Causing My Feet to Hurt?

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

Our feet are very important parts of our body. They provide a platform so we can move around, and they provide our body with the balance we need to perform many tasks. We take them for granted and don’t pay much attention unless they start to hurt.

They certainly get our attention if we develop a corn from wearing the wrong shoes, stub a toe, or break a nail past the quick. But there are other things than can create long-term foot pain. For these reasons, it’s important to know what is happening to our feet that is causing us pain.

Possible causes of foot pain include:

  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

  • Plantar fasciitis

  • Metatarsalgia

  • Myofascial pain

  • Other causes

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

A tunnel through the bones in our feet provides a passageway for nerves, tendons, and vessels. When the bony tunnel is narrowed from such things as arthritis, fracture, surgery, or bone displacement, the tibial or plantar nerves are compressed and that causes the pain of tarsal tunnel syndrome.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is characterized by inflammation of the thick, fibrous band of tissue that extends from the heel of the foot to the toes supporting the muscles of the bottom of the foot. This acts like a shock absorber and helps our feet function properly. When the plantar fascia becomes overstretched, tiny tears can riddle its surface, and the associated inflammation causes swelling and pain… In some cases, plantar fasciitis can mimic myofascial trigger points or be the cause of them. (Cooper and Miller, 2010.)

Plantar fasciitis is more common in people who are on their feet a lot, which causes tightening of the calf muscles. High arches have also been associated with plantar fasciitis.


Metatarsalgia is pain of the metatarsal bones (the name of the bones in our feet) and occurs at the ball of the foot. The ball of the foot is made up of five joints that allow us to bend our toes for locomotion. We use this part of the foot repeatedly all day long. When weight distribution is affected, such as having high arches or hammertoes, there is a higher likelihood of experiencing this pain.

Myofascial Pain

Over time, guarding of pain in our feet can create many problems. Other muscles pick up the workload to compensate for changes in the way we walk, and they try to make up for the workload, such as keeping us balanced. This can cause stress on ankle and leg muscles and lead to other pain disorders such as myofascial pain syndrome (MPS). The telltale signs of MPS are knots in the muscles that you can feel, unless they are in a muscle that is underneath bone or other large muscles. They cause pain in a particular pain referral pattern, and can cause other symptoms as well.

Other causes

Many things can cause or result in foot pain. They include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Achilles tendonitis

  • Corns, calluses, and blisters

  • Foot deformity, flat feet or high arch, bunions, and hammertoes

  • Nail disease and ingrown toenail

  • Muscle cramps

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Acute knee, leg, foot, and ankle injuries

  • Plantar warts

  • Arthritic conditions that can cause metatarsal joint abnormalities, gout, bone spurs, and inflammation

  • Osteoporosis

  • Diabetes

  • Pregnancy

  • Obesity

  • Moreton's neuroma (thickening of the nerves)

  • Scar tissue from injury or surgery

  • Trauma or overuse

  • Diseases that affect the nervous and circulatory systems

  • Diseases that affect muscle and motor control

  • Some medications

It’s possible that your foot pain could be from an underlying undiagnosed condition. That’s why it is important to discuss your specific symptoms with your physician. In Part Two, “You Are a Pain in My Foot – Reporting Symptoms,” you will read just how to do that.

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.