Chronic Foot Pain | Causes & Treatments | MedStar Health

Keeping up with everyday life can be a significant challenge when your feet are hurting. Chronic foot pain can interfere with activities you enjoy and affect your overall health by making it difficult to exercise. Having sore feet after a long day of walking or standing is to be expected, but when your pain is persistent and doesn’t improve with home treatment (e.g., rest, ice, compression, and elevation), it’s time to see a doctor.

Young man suffering from chronic foot pain

Foot pain may be caused by injuries, overuse, or wearing poorly fitting shoes. In other cases, the cause of pain may be due to an inherited condition or related to underlying health issues such as arthritis or diabetes. The following are some causes of chronic foot pain:

  • Achilles tendonitis may be caused by overuse or repeated stress to the Achilles tendon at the back of the leg just above the heel.
  • Arthritis causes pain and inflammation in the joints and is common in the small joints of the foot and ankle.
    • Osteoarthritis is degenerative and caused by wear-and-tear of the cartilage in the foot and ankle.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition affecting joints throughout the body, including the feet. Non-healing wounds are also common in rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Complex regional pain syndrome is a chronic pain condition that affects one limb usually after an injury. You may experience prolonged severe pain and changes in skin temperature, skin color, or swelling of the affected limb.
  • Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden and severe pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness in the joints, often at the base of the big toe.
  • Neuroma (Morton’s neuroma) is a thickening of the tissue around a nerve that connects your toes to the rest of your foot. It causes pain in the toes and ball of the foot and may feel as though you’re walking on a marble.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (diabetic neuropathy) is a form of nerve damage related to diabetes that causes tingling, numbness, or burning in the affected areas, and may lead to a loss of sensation in your limbs.
  • Plantar fasciitis (heel pain) is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs along the length of your foot.
  • Sesamoiditis is a form of tendinitis that occurs on the underside of the forefoot near the big toe. It is common among ballet dancers, runners, and baseball catchers who put a lot of stress on the bones and tendons of the forefoot.
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of the nerve that runs from the inside of the ankle to the foot.

Planning and recovery

A podiatric specialist can determine the cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan. During your visit, he or she will examine your feet and order an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, if needed, to view the structures of the foot. Your podiatric surgeon will determine which treatment options are best for you depending on your age, the severity of symptoms, recovery time, and other factors.

Frequently asked questions

  • Can choosing the right footwear prevent foot pain?

    Yes, finding a shoe that fits properly can save your feet from painful problems later on. Wearing shoes that are too tight can cause painful ailments such as bunions, hammertoes, corns, and other foot problems. Instead, choose footwear that fits well and allows ample room at the toe. Forgo pointed-toe for boxy styles, and avoid heels higher than 1 inch. Look for flexible, well-cushioned walking shoes made of breathable material.

  • Will I need foot and ankle surgery?

    Your doctor will assess if you would benefit from surgery depending on the type of injury, the severity of symptoms and your needs. Your doctor may recommend conservative treatments such as medications, orthotics, or special footwear before considering surgery as an option.

  • Is podiatric surgery covered by insurance?

    Your procedure may be covered by insurance if it is deemed medically necessary. Please contact your insurance company to determine your coverage.

  • How should I prepare for surgery?

    Before surgery, you may be asked to get blood tests and take or adjust medications. If you smoke, quitting will help you heal faster and better avoid complications. You’ll be given special instructions to follow prior to your surgery.

    For more information visit Patient Resources or Preparing for Surgery.

  • How long does it take to recover from podiatric surgery?

    Recovery time depends on the type of surgery and level of correction needed, and it may take a few weeks or a number of months. Your surgeon will discuss a realistic time frame for your recovery.

  • Will I need physical therapy?

    Your doctor may recommend a physical therapy program to help you get the best results from your surgery. Physical therapy can help you regain range of motion, strength, and flexibility after surgery.

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MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

3800 Reservoir Rd. NW
Washington, DC, 20007

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010