Why Do My Feet Hurt? Four Likely Causes and Quick Solutions

Have you noticed heel pain when you get out of bed?  Ball of foot pain after walking a lot?  Stabbing pains around the toes?  A change in activities puts stress on your joints in ways you may have never guessed.  Fortunately, relief can be simple.  Understanding and modifying the cause may be all you need to do.

Here are 4 reasons why your feet hurt and easy solutions to the problem:
1. Increase in walking or running: Whenever you increase any activity by more than 10 % over a week you are at risk of overuse injuries.  This can express itself as heel pain or ball of foot pain.  Both problems can be addressed by purchasing new shoes with arch supports. Sneakers should be replaced every  300 miles or 6 months.  If they show any wear on the soles, they have likely lost their cushioning. 
Another quick fix is to purchase cushioned insoles online or at the pharmacy for under 20 dollars! Recommended products online are made by Powerstep and Walk-Hero;  at the pharmacy you can find Dr. Scholls.  Purchase a full length insert to allow the ball of the foot to be supported. (I purchased these this week!) 
2. Standing barefoot: When you stand without support under your feet your arches flatten, stressing the spring ligament at the bottom of your foot.  This tugs at the heel and may cause heel pain, or plantar fasciitis.  If you pronate, you may experience pain under the big toe.  An easy fix is to wear slippers or shoes that have arch support.  A pair of Birkenstock like sandals, crocs, or slippers with arch supports and good cushioning will solve the problem. You can also place inserts into your slippers.

This photo demonstrates  areas of foot pain related to plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of foot pain from an excellent article describing causes of foot pain by Amy Williams.
3. Change in shoes: Did you used to walk in shoes with a heel?  Even transitioning from a low wedge to a flat shoe changes the way the weight is distributed on your foot and the pull on your calf muscles.   It can even change the stress on your back and knees.  While it should be an improvement to all, the transition can irritate your achilles tendon causing pain at the back of the heel.  Wearing a heel cup in slippers or flats can relieve this stress.


4. Change in exercise and activities: Were you an avid Soul cyclist or pilates fan now walking or jogging more instead?  The new exercise is a new stress to your feet, triggering calf and foot muscles to act as shock absorbers and stabilizers.    If you have put on a few pounds from lack of activity or are sitting more this can also lead to foot pain. Try to add in a version of your regular exercises such as biking outdoors if you can or doing a pilates video.  Cycling, pilates and barre classes are excellent lower leg strengtheners, which can be recreated with heel raises and the exercises below.

Here are some simple & easy exercises you can do sitting down for all causes of foot pain.  Do each exercise 10-20 times 2-3 times a day:
Heel raises:
Sitting or standing (advanced) lift your heels as high as possible.  Make sure you’re the top of your foot faces forward, not out to the side.  
Toe curls:  
Sitting, squeeze your toes together as hard as possible as if you were trying to grab something with your toes.  Advanced:  scrunch a towel from the bottom to the top to pull it together.
Calf stretches:  
Sitting, bend your knee back as far as possible leaving the ball of the foot on the ground to feel a stretch through your foot.  Advanced:  Stretch off a step. 
Ankle circles:
Sitting, rotate your ankle clockwise and counterclockwise in as big of a motion as you can.  Advanced:  try “drawing”  the alphabet in the air with your foot and ankle in motion.
For added pain and symptom relief, ice the painful area 5-10 minutes twice a day, especially after exercise and before bed.  You can try Tylenol, Advil or Aleve as directed on the package for a few days or as needed.  Over the counter pain relief treatments such as biofreeze or Aspercreme are also very effective.  Consider resting from the painful activity for a few days. Of course, if your pain persists for longer than a week and especially if your pain wakes you up at night, reach out to your doctor or podiatrist.

For more fitness tips and exercises, refer to my book: The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook ; it’s not just for Women!

Best of Health and Happiness,
Nadya Swedan, MD



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