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Foot pain – how to manage and prevent it

Please note: This leaflet is the process of being updat­ed. The revised ver­sion will be uploaded in due course.

Most of us will have painful feet from time to time, but it’s usu­al­ly pos­si­ble to take care of minor foot prob­lems by mak­ing sim­ple changes. Podi­a­trist and Uni­ver­si­ty Lec­tur­er Gor­don Hendry gives guid­ance on look­ing after your feet and explains when and how to get help for foot pain

Why do peo­ple get foot pain?

All kinds of rea­sons. Risk fac­tors for foot pain include obe­si­ty, cer­tain types of foot pos­ture, get­ting old­er and sports injuries. Peo­ple with dia­betes can devel­op neu­ro­path­ic pain in their feet, and peo­ple with vas­cu­lar prob­lems can devel­op cramps. The big one we can all do some­thing about is poor footwear.

What should I look for when buy­ing shoes?

High heels and nar­row pointy toes are the obvi­ous shoe design fea­tures that are hard on our feet, but there are oth­er things besides worth bear­ing in mind. Our Shoe Shop­ping Tips can help you make a foot-friend­ly choice.

Is it bet­ter to rest my feet if I have long term pain?

While it’s tempt­ing to rest sore feet, it’s impor­tant to keep active for wider health ben­e­fits. The strength, flex­i­bil­i­ty and coor­di­na­tion of your feet and ankles is like any­thing else – if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it!

Get­ting active not only makes you fit­ter and stronger, but will help to improve pro­pri­o­cep­tion – your sense of where your joints are posi­tioned and how they’re mov­ing. This joint posi­tion sense helps you move more effi­cient­ly. Poor pro­pri­o­cep­tion has been linked to osteoarthri­tis which caus­es pain and mobil­i­ty problems.

How can I be active when my feet hurt?

If your feet are sore, activ­i­ty needs a bit more thought than just run­ning on a tread­mill. It’s impor­tant not to make rapid changes in activ­i­ty lev­els to avoid risk­ing injury. Speak to your GP, phys­io­ther­a­pist or podi­a­trist if you’re unsure.

  • Swim­ming and cycling are good, low impact activ­i­ties. Wear­ing flip-flops can make walk­ing to the pool­side more com­fort­able. Shoes with a good, hard sole are best for cycling.
  • The con­trolled smooth move­ments prac­tised in tai chi, Pilates and yoga can help to improve strength, coor­di­na­tion and proprioception.
  • Grad­u­al­ly build­ing up the dis­tance you can walk can be made eas­i­er with a fit­ness app or a pedometer.
  • There are sim­ple foot-strength­en­ing exer­cis­es you can do at home, some of them even while sit­ting down! You can find a foot pain exer­cise pro­gramme on the Arthri­tis Research website.
  • Sim­ple calf rais­es and toe rais­es can improve ankle strength and endurance. Using an exer­cise band around the leg of a chair and mov­ing the foot in inver­sion and ever­sion direc­tions against resis­tance can also improve strength around the ankle. Toe exer­cis­es train the lit­tle mus­cles in the feet which help to keep your toes straight and strong.

When should I seek pro­fes­sion­al help?

If there’s an obvi­ous issue you think might be caus­ing your feet to hurt (such as walk­ing a long way in ill-fit­ting shoes), try adjust­ing that your­self. A lot of foot pain can be, and is, suc­cess­ful­ly self-managed.

How­ev­er, you should go to your GP for a refer­ral or go direct to a podi­a­trist when:

  • Painful feet have pre­vent­ed you from doing every­day activ­i­ties on most days over a two to four-week period
  • Your foot pain is start­ing to affect your qual­i­ty of life, restrict­ing your abil­i­ty to enjoy leisure activ­i­ties, to work or to spend time doing things with your family
  • Every­thing you’ve tried has either not worked or made it worse.

If any of the above apply to you, it’s bet­ter to get help soon­er rather than lat­er. That way you’ll reduce the loss of fit­ness that comes with inac­tiv­i­ty and make it less like­ly that your pain will affect your state of mind or social life.

What can a podi­a­trist do to help my foot pain?

A podi­a­trist will usu­al­ly be able to diag­nose the cause of your foot pain and offer a treat­ment plan. Podi­a­trists have spe­cial­ist knowl­edge with man­ag­ing pain relat­ed to mus­cu­loskele­tal prob­lems, where abnor­mal mechan­ics in the foot lead to tis­sue dam­age and pain.

If your foot pain is caused by nerve dam­age relat­ed to dia­betes or prob­lems with blood flow, you may be advised to see oth­er health­care pro­fes­sion­als who can help you man­age those under­ly­ing conditions.

Orthoses and more…

Orthoses are spe­cial­ly-designed insoles that reduce unwant­ed move­ment and change the way forces (such as the impact of your foot on the pave­ment) are dis­trib­uted. For exam­ple, an orthot­ic for heel pain might be designed to increase the con­tact the rest of your foot has with the ground to reduce the stress­es on your heel specifically.

Podi­a­trists can also rec­om­mend exer­cise pro­grammes to enhance the sta­bil­i­ty and strength of your feet and legs and give guid­ance on gen­er­al foot care.

Good foot hygiene includes:

  • wash­ing and dry­ing between your toes
  • wear­ing breath­able socks (why not ask for a pair of meri­no or cash­mere socks next time you’re stuck for a gift idea?) and thick­er socks in winter
  • avoid­ing cheap and nasty flip flops
  • apply­ing sun cream to feet on those rare sun­ny days
  • apply­ing mois­turis­er to dry, hard skin.

Dr Gor­don Hendry is Lec­tur­er in Mus­cu­loskele­tal Reha­bil­i­ta­tion at Glas­gow Cale­don­ian University.

If you would like to know more about the sources of evi­dence con­sult­ed for this pub­li­ca­tion, please click here.

Foot pain — how to man­age and pre­vent it © Gor­don Hendry. All rights reserved. March 2016. To be reviewed March 2019. 

Fur­ther resources:


I am 45 yrs old female- I had severe stab­bing pain in my toe on and off over few months and I was also get­ting unwell with severe tired­ness and dai­ly head ache ( use to treat as migraine) to the extent I was not able to go to work at all. 

after long wait­ing I got the answer- I was diag­nosed with fibromyal­gia and start­ed on amitripty­line — in 2 weeks I was back at work full time- my toe pain / head ache all most­ly gone . 

the toe pain was the wired thing as even when I spoke to gp/ ortho/ podotrits — no one know what was caus­ing it..said same things as in above arti­cle. .. but FM affect 1 in 25 and not many doc­tors know about this condition. 

strange­ly one of my staff has the same pain in the toe and she was diag­nosed with FM too.

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Very help­ful infor­ma­tion specif­i­cal­ly the final part 🙂 I main­tain such infor­ma­tion much.
I was look­ing for this cer­tain info for a long time.
Thanks and best of luck.

Thank you for the insight­ful arti­cle about foot pain and issues. I’ve also come to real­ize that regard­less of the obvi­ous dis­com­fort, rest­ing your sore feet can do more harm than good. Espe­cial­ly swim­ming can then be a good form of exer­cise, as it’s soft on your feet. If the pain is long term and per­sis­tent, con­sult­ing a podi­a­trist is also recommended.

hey all,

This is Olivia and i am work­ing in a med­ical and health relat­ed organization.
I have a lot of research on knees, foot and Osteoarthri­tis prob­lems. Iv’e read so many blogs but i found it very useful.

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Chat soon!

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web­site. Keep up the good writing.

great by all means, what an amaz­ing and use­ful post. thanks for sharing !

Most Com­mon Foot Prob­lems and How a Chi­ropodist can Help

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