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Why Your Feet Hurt

It’s probably due to one of these ailments. Here’s how to treat them. For serious pain, see a podiatrist or a podiatric surgeon.

By Sally Wadyka
Woman's feet in yellow flip flops Victor Schrager

1. Plantar Fasciitis

Feels like: A sharp pain in your heel (or heels) that’s at its worst when you get out of bed.
 What causes it: Inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the toes. People with all arch types―high, medium, or low―can be prone to this type of irritation, says Carly Robbins, a podiatric surgeon in Columbus, Ohio. Wearing shoes with very flat or very high heels can worsen the problem. “If a shoe doesn’t support the arch, the fascia will be stretched, and that can cause inflammation,” says Robbins. And if your Achilles tendon often feels tight, it can exacerbate the issue.
 Treatment strategies
  • Wear structured shoes. Look for pairs that support the arches and enclose the heels. Avoid going barefoot or wearing ballet flats or flip-flops.
  • Stretch your Achilles tendons in the morning. “The plantar fascia is in a relaxed position when you’re sleeping,” says Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatric surgeon in New York City. “Then it gets a jolt of tension when you put weight on it.” Before hopping out of bed, wrap a towel or a T-shirt around your feet and pull the toes back to stretch the tendons.
  • Reduce swelling. Fill a plastic bottle with water, freeze it, and roll it under your foot for a few minutes to soothe the pain.
  • Consider custom orthotics. A podiatrist can make inserts that are molded specifically for your feet, which will control their motion and decrease strain on the plantar fasciae when worn inside shoes.


2. Ingrown Toenail

Feels like: A throbbing sensation, usually on the side of a big toe. It might look red and swollen.
 What causes it: This often occurs when the nail edge grows sideways into the skin of the toe. The pressure on the nail jabs into the surrounding skin, causing discomfort. Wearing shoes that are too tight or too narrow can exacerbate the problem. Cutting toenails incorrectly can also be a culprit.
 Treatment strategies
  • Wear pointy-toed shoes infrequently. And if you’ll be walking a lot, carry them and wear shoes with roomy toe boxes until you reach your destination.
  • Keep feet well moisturized. When the skin on your toes gets inflamed, a callus can develop, causing more pressure on the ingrown nail. Keeping skin soft helps alleviate this problem.
  • Cut toenails straight across. And don’t file the corners down. If you get pedicures, be sure the technician follows these rules.
  • See a podiatrist if you suspect infection. Signs include significant swelling and redness. “Don’t try any bathroom surgery,” says Robbins. “Digging around the nail and trying to cut out the ingrown part can lead to more irritation.”


3. Bursitis

Feels like: A bump, usually on the back of a heel.
 What causes it: “This condition can occur when you have a genetically enlarged heel bone,” says Marlene Reid, a podiatric surgeon in Naperville, Illinois. “It’s often called ‘pump bump’ because the bone can become irritated from wearing a shoe like a pump with a stiff back.” When the unforgiving shoe rubs against the bone, you can inflame the bursa, the protective sac of fluid in the tissue.
 Treatment strategies
  • Switch to shoes with open backs (or at least with more give) until the irritation subsides.
  • Use a donut pad. Try Dr. Scholl’s Foam Ease Callus Cushions ($4.50 at drugstores). Place one over the bursa to alleviate pressure. At the end of the day, ice the area to soothe the inflammation.
  • Consider seeing a doctor. If the problem causes chronic pain, a podiatric surgeon can remove the bursa and the enlarged part of the heel bone.
Read More About:Aches & Pains

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