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If you’re reading this, you probably already have an inkling of how common foot problems can be, and how many types of foot problems there are. While we wish this wasn’t the case, the prevalence of such foot problems is why it’s so crucial to pay close attention to your foot health — whatever your gender, age, and lifestyle. Depending on the foot condition, many of these can have further consequences on your overall health and daily life. At the most basic level, foot irritation or pain is unpleasant in itself, but it could also make everyday activities such as walking more difficult. Foot problems can also be associated with — or exacerbate — issues in the knees or back, for example, and if left untreated, some of them can cause further injury.
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Of course, not all foot problems are the same. Some, such as calluses and bunions, are extremely common and often don’t cause too much pain or discomfort in everyday life. Foot problems like these can often be managed easily at home — for example, with hydrating foot masks for calluses, and in many cases by investing in a pair of supportive, comfortable shoes for men and women. With that in mind, it’s still important to consult a medical professional if you’re concerned, or if the condition appears to have progressed. Some problems are genetic in nature — such as flat feet and hammertoes — while others, like plantar fasciitis, develop as a result of age, lifestyle, or activity, and all of these can vary greatly in severity. Also, certain foot shapes such as high arches and flat feet are more prone to developing painful conditions under certain circumstances.
All foot problems can either be resolved, managed, or prevented with a visit to a podiatrist or other medical professional who can properly diagnose you if you’re unsure what’s going on, as well as design a personalized treatment plan for your specific condition. In all cases, the type of shoes you opt for matters greatly, and can help ease pain and prevent recurrences. Your podiatrist will also be able to advise you on that front, but the best shoes for foot problems are often ones with lots of cushioning or orthopedic shoes. Below, we go into detail about 15 common foot problems, what the symptoms are for each, and how to manage each one.
Symptoms: Pain, stiffness and swelling of the Achilles tendon
Causes: Repetitive overuse of the Achilles tendon, especially running; menopause; injury; inflammatory disease
Solutions: Rest; ice; stretching; extracorporeal shockwave therapy; footwear with cushioning, arch support and a substantial heel-toe drop to lift the heel
Achilles tendonitis corresponds to inflammation of the Achilles tendon, a band of tissue that goes upwards from above your heel. “Pain, stiffness, and swelling are common symptoms,” says London-based podiatrist Marion Yau of The Harley Street Foot and Nail Clinic. “This condition is caused by repetitive overuse of the Achilles tendon,” she adds, meaning that runners and athletes are at a higher risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. Those going through menopause, those with flat feet, or those with certain inflammatory diseases may also experience the condition.
Maggie Trevillion, a podiatrist and founder of Walk This Way Podiatry and the Callen Olive footcare line, notes that recommended treatment for this condition includes “rest, physical therapy, and proper footwear with cushioning and arch support.” She adds that extracorporeal shockwave therapy may also help. As for footwear, Yau is a big fan of Sapogi shoes for Achilles tendonitis, which are “equipped with replacement inserts, allowing us to add a heel lift as part of our treatment plan to relieve stress on the Achilles tendon.” The expert continues, “In addition, it provides arch support and stability for the foot to prevent further injury.”
Symptoms: Bony protrusion on the side of the foot, difficulty finding footwear that fits, pain in some cases
Causes: Genetics, wearing footwear with a tapered toe box, gender (women are more often affected), age
Solutions: Wearing footwear with a wide toe box, toe separators, cushioning pads, surgery in some cases
A bunion, also referred to as Hallux Valgus, is “a misalignment of the first metatarsophalangeal joint which causes a bony bump that protrudes to the inner side of the foot,” says podiatrist Dr. Robert M. Conenello of Orangetown Podiatry. “Although bunion deformity definitely has genetic origin, it can be enhanced by shoes with a tapered toe box. Due to shoe styles it is more commonly seen in women.” While bunions are not a serious condition and are typically not painful (though they can be), Stephanie Owen, a podiatrist and director of SO Podiatry, notes that they can cause sufferers to feel self-conscious about their feet, as well as making it harder to find shoes that fit properly. In most cases, treatment involves bunion-friendly footwear (shoes with a wide toe box or open-toed sandals for bunions are preferred), as well as wearing toe separators or cushioning pads. Dr. Conenello likes shoes by Altra and Topo for those affected by bunions. However, in some cases, surgery may be recommended to correct the deformity, per Owen.
Symptoms: Thickening and yellowing of the skin; pain
Causes: Poor foot strength, structure and mechanics; age; wearing ill-fitted shoes
Solutions: Daily moisturizing; wearing well-fitting, cushioned, neutral shoes; custom orthotics; professional treatment in some cases
Calluses look like a “thickening and yellowing of the skin,” says Yau, which can be caused from excess pressure on those areas. “Calluses may cause pain where they are located.” As for who is most likely to develop calluses, Dr. Conenello explains, “individuals with poor foot strength, structure and mechanics are most vulnerable.” The podiatrist adds, “More mature individuals are more likely to develop them as changes in mobility can cause more ‘wear’ to certain areas of the foot.” Moisturizing your feet every day with specially formulated foot cream (look for exfoliating ingredients like urea) can help with both treating and preventing calluses, and you should invest in neutral shoes or cushioned shoes that are well fitted to your foot to avoid any rubbing. In some cases, calluses may require professional treatment, consisting of debriding the hardened skin.
Symptoms: Small, circular, thickened areas of skin; pain while walking
Causes: Wearing the wrong footwear; abnormalities in foot structure or function; skin type; activity; fat pad composition; general health problems; skin hydration level
Solutions: Switching to properly fitting footwear; using corn cushioning pads; consulting a podiatrist for potential enucleation
“Corns are common small, circular, thickened areas of skin that often develop on the tops or sides of toes, and on the soles of the feet,” says Trevillion. “Like calluses, they are typically caused by repeated friction and pressure on the skin, often due to ill-fitting shoes or abnormalities in foot structure or biomechanical function.” The expert adds that calluses and corns often go hand in hand, and that corns can cause discomfort and pain while walking, especially if you’re wearing the wrong footwear.
According to Owen, anyone can develop corns. “It all depends on the skin, activity, fat pad composition, health, skin hydration, and footwear,” she explains. Owen recommends seeing a podiatrist who can recommend treatment that’s personalized to your needs. This may include switching to properly fitted footwear, using corn cushioning pads for corns on the toes, or enucleation (which must be done by a podiatrist only).
Symptoms: Knee, hip, or lower back pain; overpronation; gait issues
Causes: Genetics; age; injury; overuse of the surrounding muscles
Solutions: Wearing footwear with arch support and a good heel-toe drop; wearing orthotic insoles; physical therapy
It’s important to note off the bat that having flat feet — feet where the arch touches the ground when standing — doesn’t necessarily indicate an issue. “Flat feet are generally healthy, normal, and genetic,” says Trevillion. “They are only a problem if they are symptomatic, significant asymmetry is present, and/or they are causing issues more proximally, such as knee, hip or lower back pain.” Flat feet can also develop over time due to age, injury, or overuse of the surrounding muscles, and cause pain, fatigue, and gait issues. When flat feet become a problem, the solution is to wear arch support shoes with a substantial heel-toe drop (over 7mm is best). Orthotic insoles may also be recommended, as well as physical therapy.
Symptoms: Abnormally bent toe; calluses or corns; pain; swelling; difficulty walking
Causes: Genetics; bunions; injury or trauma; arthritis; neuromuscular disorders; muscle imbalances; foot structure; improper footwear such as narrow or high-heeled shoes
Solutions: Roomy footwear; toe exercises; toe props; surgery if severe
Hammertoes are “toes that bend abnormally, often resembling a hammer,” says Trevillion, adding that they can cause quite a lot of pain or discomfort. “They can be rigid or flexible and, at times, have corns or calluses caused by shoes rubbing on the tops of the toes.” Hammertoes can be caused by a few different factors, including “muscle imbalances, foot structure, footwear, or trauma,” according to Dr. Conenello. Trevillion notes that hammertoes can also be genetic or caused by bunions, arthritis, a muscle imbalance in the leg or foot, or neuromuscular disorders. To help you deal with hammertoes, Trevillion suggests “roomy footwear, toe exercises, toe spacers, hammertoe cushion pads, and surgery if severe.” Yau particularly likes the Vionic Pacific Rio sandal for women with hammertoes, which are open-toed to prevent friction on the toes.
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Symptoms: Bony growth in the heel, sharp pain (especially in the morning), difficulty walking
Causes: Overuse injuries (such as a lot of standing or running); weight
Solutions: Rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, surgery in severe cases, shoes with high cushioning and heel support
Yau defines a heel spur as “a bony growth in the heel,” and says, “heel spurs can cause inflammation and pain in the heel area, and are usually found in those who are active or who do a lot of standing or running.” Trevillion adds that heel spurs can also be associated with excess weight. Treatment for heel spurs may include one or more of the following: rest, over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, and surgery in severe cases. In all cases, appropriate shoes for heel spurs are necessary, meaning footwear with lots of cushioning and heel support, and/or the use of insoles for heel pain. Yau recommends the Brooks Dyad 11 sneaker for heel spurs.
A final note on this condition: Dr. Conenello and Owen both hesitate to use the term “heel spur” at all. Heel spurs “are an antiquated term that we have learned do not cause pain or pathology but are rather secondary findings on X-ray,” according to Dr. Conenello. If you suspect you have something that could be defined under the “heel spur” umbrella, it’s crucial to consult an expert podiatrist who can provide a personalized diagnosis and treatment plan.
Symptoms: Lack of normal sensation in the foot or increased sensation in the foot (i.e. pain); sores or wounds; lack of proprioception (awareness of the position of one’s body); imbalance; increased risk of falling
Causes: Diabetes; traumatic nerve injury; spinal injury; surgery; anemia; can be idiopathic
Solutions: Treating or managing the root cause; medication; physical therapy; lifestyle changes; wearing lightweight shoes with low drops
Neuropathy corresponds to a “lack of normal or increased sensation to the feet,” according to Dr. Conenello. “Symptoms include lack of proprioception, which can lead to imbalance and increased risk of falling,” the expert adds. Owen also notes that, since those suffering from neuropathy may not “feel” their feet, they can often present with wounds or sores because they’re overloading their feet while walking. She cites “diabetes, alcohol, traumatic nerve injury, spinal injury, surgery, and anemia” as some of the possible causes of neuropathy, although it can also be idiopathic (meaning the cause is unknown or difficult to trace). “There are no known cures but the symptoms can be managed with medications and better understanding the specific cause,” says Dr. Conenello. “Lightweight shoes with low drops are best for these individuals.” Physical therapy, wearing diabetes-friendly shoes or slippers, and additional lifestyle changes may also be recommended for patients with neuropathy.
Symptoms: Sharp pain or burning in the ball of the foot; tingling; numbness
Causes: Wearing shoes that are too tight, such as high heels; injury; overuse
Solutions: Physical therapy; corticosteroid injections; surgery; placing metatarsal pads below the ball of the foot; wearing shoes with a wide toe box
“Morton’s neuroma is the inflammation of the digital plantar nerve,” says Yau. “It can cause pain in the ball of the foot and can also cause tingling and numbness.” Morton’s neuroma is often seen on the nerve tissue between the third and fourth toes, and is common in women who wear high heels with a narrow toe box (such as pointy or square-toed stilettos). However, it can occur in anyone whose shoes are too tight, or as a result of injury or overuse in runners. “Treatment usually involves physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and surgery,” says Yau. Choice of footwear is also central to managing Morton’s neuroma: The experts we spoke to recommend investing in shoes with a wider toe box, as well as the use of orthotics including metatarsal pads to place under the ball of the foot. “In the Gaviota 4, Hoka utilizes an innovative midsole design that offers shock absorption to reduce pressure on the feet,” says Yau. “The shoe is designed with a wider forefoot to reduce pressure on the toes and nerves. As a result, the plantar nerve may be less inflamed.”
Symptoms: Inflammation of the plantar fascia; micro tears; medial heel or arch pain
Causes: Sex; age; overuse; flat feet; muscle inflexibility
Solutions: Rest; ice; massage; stretching; wearing shoes for plantar fasciitis with plenty of arch support; wearing a Strassburg Sock; physical therapy; extracorporeal shockwave therapy; injection therapy; surgery
Plantar fasciitis is, unfortunately, a super common foot condition, and refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia. “This is an overuse injury in which repetitive stress to the connective tissue that helps to support the midfoot gets stressed beyond its capabilities and leads to overstretching and eventually micro tears,” says Dr. Conenello.
Those with plantar fasciitis are likely to feel “medial heel or arch pain, especially in the morning or after prolonged standing and periods of rest,” according to Trevillion. Plantar fasciitis can affect many different demographics and for many different reasons: Though middle-aged adults and women are the most likely to present with plantar fasciitis, it can also occur in growing children, those with flat feet, those who stand all day, or athletes “who overdo it and do not focus on strength, flexibility, mobility, and proper shoe gear,” per Dr. Conenello.
The treatment for plantar fasciitis includes “rest, ice, massage, stretching, shoes with arch support, wearing a Strassburg sock, physical therapy, extracorporeal shockwave therapy, or injection therapy,” says Trevillion. In extreme cases, surgery may be recommended. Yau likes Asics’ Gel shoe range for alleviating the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. These running and walking shoes for plantar fasciitis utilize “Gel technology, which reduces impact on the rearfoot, improves shock absorption, and reduces plantar fasciitis pain by reducing heel pressure,” Yau explains. Shoes specially designed for standing all day, slippers for plantar fasciitis, sandals for plantar fasciitis, and plantar fasciitis insoles can also help.
Posterior Tidal Tendonitis Dysfunction
Symptoms: Pain; fallen arches; instability when walking
Causes: Age; weight; sex (more common in women); overuse; tight muscles; incorrect posture; playing sports that involve repetitive movements
Solutions: Physical therapy; stretching; ankle bracing; custom orthotics; surgery
Posterior tidal tendonitis dysfunction is “damage to the tendon supporting the arch of the foot,” says Trevillion. This can cause “pain, fallen arches, and instability when walking.” The condition is often associated with age, weight, and sex (being more common in women), and can also be caused by “overuse, tight muscles, or incorrect posture,” according to Yau. That means that it’s often found in athletes who engage in repetitive movements. It’s crucial to consult a medical professional for help with this condition, because it can lead to “severe foot and ankle deformity if left untreated,” Trevillion says. Treatment may include physical therapy, stretching, ankle bracing, custom orthotics, and surgery in some cases.
Symptoms: Joint pain and stiffness
Causes: Wear and tear; age; sex
Solutions: Medications; physical therapy; and lifestyle changes; surgery; wearing well cushioned and/or rocker soled shoes
“Osteoarthritis is a bone condition caused by wear and tear,” says Yau. “It affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness.” The expert notes that osteoarthritis is most commonly found in women and in older adults. Treatment plans will include medications, physical therapy, shoes for arthritis, and lifestyle changes such as incorporating certain exercises. Surgery may also be required depending on your unique condition. “Often a rocker soled shoe will help with walking if you have good balance and no history of falling,” says Owen, while Yau recommends shoes from Xsensible, whose cushioning she says “helps provide balance and stability, reducing fatigue and pain, improving posture, and reducing knee pain.” Those with osteoarthritis should also consider shoes for knee pain and back pain for everyday wear.
Symptoms: Pain in the big toe; damage to the ligaments; swelling; limited movement
Causes: Engaging in sports or activities that involve sudden turns or movements; hyperextending or bending the big toe backward
Solutions: Rest; stopping exercise; taping; bracing; surgery; wearing shoes with a wide toe box or open-toed shoes
Turf toe is most often seen in athletes and/or dancers, and is a sprain of the big toe joint. Owen compares this condition to stubbing. “Turf toe can occur when the big toe is hyperextended or bent backward beyond its normal range of motion, often on a hard surface like artificial turf,” says Trevillion. “The injury can be painful and may result in damage to the ligaments around the big toe joint.” As well as pain, turf toe can also come with swelling and limit the patient’s movement in their big toe. It’s important to consult a medical professional as soon as possible if you suspect turf toe. A treatment plan will typically involve “rest and no exercise until it eases,” says Owen, plus taping, and in some cases bracing or surgery. You’ll likely be advised to wear shoes with a wide toe box or comfortable sandals to ease the pain and avoid causing further damage.
Symptoms: Fracture in a bone; sudden onset; pain; swelling; difficulty bearing weight
Causes: Repetitive stress or overuse of the foot; increasing volume of exercise too quickly
Solutions: Rest; footwear with shock absorption; immobilization; custom foot orthotics; diet changes; exercises to improve form
“A stress fracture is a fracture that occurs along the length of a bone,” says Yau. “The metatarsal bone is usually affected by repetitive stress or overuse in the foot. Athletes are typically affected by this condition.” Dr. Conenello adds that stress fractures are often seen in people who start exercising much more, too suddenly, without adequate build-up. Associated symptoms are “sudden onset, pain, swelling, and difficulty bearing weight,” adds Trevillion. Stress fractures will typically be treated with “rest, proper footwear with shock absorption, and sometimes immobilization with an aircast boot to accelerate healing,” the expert adds. “If it reoccurs, custom foot orthotics may be needed.” To help prevent a new stress fracture, you may be recommended dietary changes and exercises to rectify your form.
Symptoms: Itching; burning; peeling and cracking of the skin; redness
Causes: Exposure to infected areas, especially moist and warm environments, such as swimming pools and gym floors
Solutions: Keeping the foot clean and dry; wearing breathable shoes and moisture-wicking socks; antifungal medication and creams; using anti-microbial spray in shoes
Athlete’s foot is aptly named, given that it’s common in athletes who perspire a lot and spend a lot of time in damp shoes. “Usually found in people exposed to common infected areas such as swimming pools and gym floors, athlete’s foot is a fungal skin infection,” explains Yau. “This infection causes itching, burning, peeling, and cracking of the skin around the affected foot.” Even though it’s very unpleasant, athlete’s foot is highly treatable by keeping the foot as clean and dry as possible, including wearing highly breathable footwear made of leather, canvas, or certain synthetics. Yau likes the Skechers Go Walk Max-Athletic Air Mesh Slip On shoes for this purpose, and you can also check out our list of the best slip-on sneakers for alternatives. If you’re wearing socks, you should opt for a pair that’s specifically designed to be moisture-wicking, or made out of natural fibers such as cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Additionally, your doctor will likely advise you use antifungal cream or oral antifungal medication, as well as using an anti-microbial spray for your shoes.
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Meet the Experts
Marion Yau is an award-winning celebrity podiatrist based in London, UK. She practices at The Harley Street Foot and Nail Clinic, where she specializes in the use of hot and cold laser therapy to treat fungal nail infections. Yau creates educational content on social media as Miss Foot Fixer. You can find her on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.
Maggie Trevillion is a podiatrist based in London and the founder of Walk This Way Podiatry and the Callen Olive footcare line. She began her career in foot health working in the National Healthy Service, the Ministry of Defence, and through private practice. in 2012, she created the Walk This Way Podiatry center to specializes in podiatry and orthotics.
Dr. Robert M. Conenello is a practicing podiatrist and founder of Orangetown Podiatry in New York City. His expertise is focuses on the prevention and rehabilitation of foot pathologies. He treats athletes with common foot conditions and serves as the Clinical Director of the Special Olympics New Jersey Healthy Athletes division. He has also contributed as a medical expert at the New York and Boston marathons and The Racing the Planets Sahara Race.
Stephanie Owen is a podiatrist and the director of SO Podiatry who specializes in lower limb biomechanics and gait analysis. She lent her expertise in Musculoskeletal Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham for seven years of her career, as well as served as a professor in clinical practice at the University of Galway. In 2017, she created the SO Podiatry Ltd to provide private podiatry care in Worcester, England.
Meet the Author
Iris Goldsztajn is a freelance writer and editor based in London, UK. She is currently the morning editor at Marie Claire, and her work has appeared in the likes of British Vogue, InStyle, Brides, Refinery29, Bustle, and many more. She is originally from Paris, France, and has lived in Los Angeles and New York City. Previously, Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus, where she was responsible for all style and beauty blog content. Goldsztajn regularly researches the shoe market and tests footwear, and her expertise informed this breakdown of common foot conditions.
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