Is foot pain bothering you? Reveal the causes and solutions

You might tell yourself – “I can handle it. I can stand it. I’ll just walk it off.”

But foot pain is a warning sign: It’s telling you there’s something wrong with the body.

Discover what your feet are trying to tell you. Today we’ll have a look at the causes of foot pain and how to rid yourself of it once and for all. 

What you’ll learn about in this article:

  • Seeing a doctor for chronic pain
  • When is it ok to have pain? 
  • Heel pain
  • Arch and instep pain
  • Pain in the whole sole of the foot
  • Pain in the side of the foot
  • Pain in and under the toes
  • Swelling, calluses and ingrown toenails
  • Interesting foot facts
  • We cause most of these problems ourselves. Step out of them and into a solution! 

See a doctor for chronic pain 

Has foot pain been bothering you for a longer period of time and you can’t get rid of it? Don’t hesitate to visit your doctor. He or she will write you a slip to see an orthopedist, who will start dealing with your problem. 

Chronic pain signals problems that need to be dealt with by a professional. 

When is it ok to have pain?

Not every pain is bad. Sometimes it can even be natural muscle fatigue. You’re putting great strain on your feet and strengthening them, and this pain should soon pass. 

How do you recognize muscle fatigue?

  • The pain comes after demanding physical activity. 
  • It gradually recedes until it disappears completely
  • Rest, stretching and massages help.

Now we’ll have a look at the pain you’re experiencing.

A woman in Ahinsa trekking sandals walking in nature

Been out on a long trek and your feet are now hurting? It might just be muscle fatigue.

Pain in the heel is a sign that it’s overburdened or in the wrong position

Heel pain can point to one of two frequent problems:

  • a poorly positioned heel when walking and standing
  • overburdening

You might not be stepping down directly on the center of the heel (the heel bone). When you burden the heel unevenly, the body can react by creating a heel spur. This spur becomes evident in heel pain, typically while stepping down and later when the heel is at rest. 

Heel pain from below can mean that you’re overburdening your heel. You’re either stepping down too hard on your heel or you’re putting too much weight on it when you’re standing. This can happen, for example, by wearing heels, which change the position of the foot. 

How can you recognize that you’re overburdening your heel? Plug your ears and go for a walk. Walking barefoot in the living room will suffice. Can you hear the stamping of your feet? That means you’re stepping down on your heels and harming them.

When wearing shoes with heels, you’re shifting your weight to the heel of your foot and overburdening it.

When wearing shoes with heels, you’re shifting your weight to the heel of your foot and overburdening it.

How to deal with heel pain 

Get to the root of the problem. And that means: Learning to center your heel and step down sensitively. Here’s how:

First, find where the center of the heel is. 

  1. Bend the foot to the left and right while keeping your heel in place. 
  2. Notice where the extreme positions are. 
  3. Look for the middle, centered position
  4. It’s usually between both extremes in the spot where you can feel full contact between the heel bone and the ground. 
  5. Once you find it, start gently putting weight on the foot in this position. Lift your other foot, take a step up and then step down.
  6. When moving, keep checking the position of your heel and whole foot. The toes, heel, ankle and knee all have to be aligned.

The heel is stabilized, among other things, by the muscles that lead back from the toes. That’s why it’s important for your toes not to be constricted in a narrow shoe and for you to use them actively. How should you practice this? Start simply: 

Try to stand on your tip-toes using only the strength of your toes. The calf muscles are only helping – they’re not pulling the body upwards. Can you do this? Great – that means you know how to activate your toes.

Training alone isn’t enough. Don’t forget to give your toes an ample amount of space. Look for shoes with a wide toe-box like Ahinsa shoes. 

We also recommend practising delicate stepping. You can try with your ears plugged like we mentioned above. If you can hear the tramping of your feet, it means you’re stepping down too hard. Try slowing down, shortening your step and sense the way you bring the soles of your feet down to the ground. A delicate step – just like cats have – is important. 

Arch pain doesn’t necessarily mean flat feet 

Pain in the arch or instep can point to two frequent problems. The first one listed below can be dealt with easily: 

    1. Overly narrow or low shoes that constrict the instep
    2. Flat feet (i.e. a collapsed arch)

First, start looking for the problem in your shoe rack. Have a look at the shoes you wear most often and check for the following: 

  • Are they wide enough? Take out the insole, put your foot down on it and center your toes – does the whole breadth of your foot fit onto it? 
  • Are they high and flexible enough at the instep? The foot needs room to move and material that copies that movement.

a woman’s feet in Ahinsa barefoot sandals

Healthy shoes don’t limit your feet. They have a wide toe-box and room for the instep.

Are the shoes ok? Then you might have flat feet. When the arch collapses, the bones in it start to push together. This pinches the nerves and soft tissue, causing pain in the arch. 

Don’t worry – even a collapsed arch can be treated. Exercise and shoes that allow the feet to move freely will help.

How to deal with arch pain

If your problem is a collapsed arch, first find a mirror. Stand up in front of it and look at your ankles. Are they collapsing inward? 

In reality, most people with flat feet don’t have a collapsed arch, but everted ankles. Once the ankles are straightened, the arch will be created.

Centered foot with the ankle in an ideal position vs. everted ankles

Centered foot with the ankle in an ideal position vs. everted ankles

Does this description fit you? Then we recommend exercises for strengthening the ankle. First find the correct position: 

    1. Stand up on both feet. 
    2. Evert your ankle (i.e. bend it inwards) as far as you can. 
    3. Bend it outwards in the opposite direction the same way. 
    4. Look for the center – it will be somewhere between these positions.

Shift slowly and fluently between the two extreme positions. Take note of what you’re feeling at each phase of movement. 

You’ll recognize the ideal position when the axis of the knee is aligned with the axis of the foot – the knee will be “pointing” at the second toe. The heel is centered and the whole external edge of the foot and all the toes are in contact with the ground.

Drawing of a centered lower limb illustrating the axes

A centered knee is in one line with the axis of the foot.

Got it? Great – now you need to remember the position and strengthen the ankle. Exercises like the ones on the balance trainer that we’ve described in the article How to Cure Flat Feet are great for that. 

➡️ And what if the arch is collapsed? 

The arch collapses when the muscles that form it weaken. How does this happen?  

Simply put: You often wear shoes that don’t allow the foot muscles to work properly. Over time, the brain stops being aware of them – therefore it stops using them and the muscles weaken. 

So back to your shoe rack! Do your shoes have a toe box wide enough for your toes to move around in with complete freedom? 

View inside a shoe with a wide toe-box – the toes have enough room to move freely.

The amount of room the feet should have in good shoes.

If the shoes are ok, start exercising. You’ll be gradually activating the arch and you’ll see it coming back into shape. 

We recommend exercising on the balance trainer:

In order to situate the longitudinal arch and ankle correctly, stand up on the balance trainer lengthwise. Use both the straight and rounded side – each one will give the foot a different sensation.

  1. Stand up on the balance trainer. 
  2. Check the position of the toes. Are they active and centered
  3. Situate the arch and the position of the ankle and whole lower limb to be in one line. 
  4. Shift your weight to one foot. You can start by just taking a bit of weight off the other. Then stand on one foot only. 
  5. Make sure you have the proper positioning (toes, foot, ankle and whole leg in one line). 
  6. Later, try closing your eyes, doing a squat or walking back and forth along the trainer. Feel free to lean on a wall so you don’t fall.

centered toes – spread broadly apart, their axes are aligned with the axis of the foot.

What do centered toes look like? Have a look at the picture on the left. 

For the transverse arch, try stepping onto the rounded side of the trainer – it’s great for positioning the arch. What should you try now? 

  1. Grip the trainer with your toes. Make sure your toes are straight, not curved. 
  2. Straighten the leg into one line. This line should lead from the second toe over the ankle, up the knee and onward. 
  3. Put weight on the foot in various ways – by squatting or standing on one leg. 
  4. Walk over the rounded side of the balance trainer. Don’t hurry – it’s ideal to walk fluidly and consciously. 
  5. Check that the whole limb is straight (centered).

You’ll find more exercises for the feet in the article How to cure flat feet.

Pain in the whole sole of the foot: It’s better to see a doctor

Sole pain can be a sign of various problems. Is it sharp and piercing or dull and deep?

  • Sharp, piercing pain or stinging sensations in the foot can be a sign of muscle overload, a blockage or inflammation. Plantar fasciitis (heel spurs) is common among runners and typically manifests itself in pain at the bottom of the heel upwards, but also frequently in the whole sole of the foot. 
  • Dull, deep pain is more likely a sign of a chronic problem. 

Metatarsalgia manifests itself in a specific manner – as pain in the instep, underside of the foot and the toes. Sometimes there can be a tingling sensation in the toes. These problems point to the fact that the bones in the foot are pressing on the nerves. 

➡️ How to deal with pain in the sole of the foot

If pain in the sole has appeared after physical exertion and is gradually disappearing, it’s only muscle fatigue. Treat yourself to a massage and some rest and you’ll be back on track in no time. 

But, if the pain doesn’t cease, see a doctor. Only an examination by a professional can identify where the pain is coming from. 

Before you go to a doctor, we recommend the following: 

  • Rest.
  • Stretch the sole and the whole foot gently. 
  • Give your foot space. Don’t wear narrow, constricting shoes.

Narrow high-heels next to spacious barefoot ballet flats.

Treat your foot to ample rest and space, which it doesn’t have in classic heels or shoes.

Pain in the side of the foot is a sign of arch problems

Pain in the side of the foot is usually in the arch area. Is this your problem? If so, the pain is trying to point you towards one of two problems: 

  • Your arch isn’t functioning like it should be. 
  • You’re overburdening it. 

You can recognize a dysfunctional arch yourself – it’s collapsed. If this is your problem, go back a bit in this article to the section on arch pain.

An overburdened arch is typical for athletes. While running, for example, the arch works as a natural shock absorber. The toes should also be an aid in this, but they’re constricted and dysfunctional in a narrow running shoe. The muscles of the arch take over the work for them and become overburdened.

picture of a healthy arch

A functional arch is properly concave in shape and functions as a shock absorber as you walk.

➡️ How to deal with pain in the side of the foot 

Start by giving the feet room. Walk barefoot as often as possible, take delicate steps and choose shoes with a wide toe box for your trip to work. This will help your toes work properly and support the function of the arch, preventing overburdening and pain. 

Continue with exercises for strengthening the arch in the section on arch pain. 

Pain in the toes and the sole under the toes = the toes are screaming for more space

Can you spread out the fingers of your hand? Of course you can! But can you stretch out your toes in the same way? We bet you can’t. After years in shoes, your toes have gotten use to not being able to move. They’ve given up – and stopped functioning properly.

Ahinsa Vida barefoot sneakers with wide toe box

Good news! Not all shoes will torture your feet. These beautiful sneakers will give you enough room.

You might not have noticed the problem for years until the pain appeared. How does this happen? The constricted toes are deformed in the shoe and the small bones in them cease to be aligned. The joints wear down and begin to cry out in pain. 

In addition, the blood and lymph circulate poorly in constricted parts of the body. Toxins can build up here, leading to swelling and inflammations. 

➡️ How to deal with pain in and under the toes

Start by giving your toes room. Get rid of elastic socks and classic shoes with narrow tips.

A bare foot next to a foot in a sock. The foot in the sock has constricted toes.

Even socks can constrict the toes. Can you see the difference?

Now for the fun part: Learning how to use your toes

How can you reanimate them? Try these simple exercises: 

  1. Sit down. 
  2. Relax the foot. 
  3. Constrict your toes into a “ball”
  4. Stretch them out. 
  5. Repeat.

Are you doing it? Great! Let’s move on. 

Try to stand on tip-toe using only your toes. Make sure you’re not lifting yourself with the strength of the calf muscle. When lifting the body, the toes are on the ground, not in the air. 

Use this principle for healthy walking – only now your toes will be pushing you forwards, not upwards.

standing on tiptoes exercise

Test how strong your toes are. Stand on your tiptoes using only their power.

Continue with the e-book exercise Step by Step to Healthy Walking.

Swelling, calluses and ingrown toenails? The feet are crying for help

You might be thinking that swelling or calluses are no big deal. They come, they go – and everything’s ok. In reality, they’re signs of an emerging problem. What can they mean? 

Swelling: The foot isn’t moving like it should. The blood and lymph aren’t circulating through it, allowing toxins to build up. The problem can be tight shoes, constricting socks or sitting for excessive periods of time. 

Calluses: A callus will appear in the place where you’re overburdening the foot. Focus on uniform movement with the e-book Step by Step to Healthy Walking.

Ingrown toenails: The nails and toes don’t have enough space. Walk barefoot and choose shoes with a spacious toe box.

photo of the bottom of a foot

Bruising on the soles of the feet are a telltale sign that you’re burdening the bruised areas more than the others.

Interesting foot facts

💡 How painful is an Achilles tendon inflammation? 

An Achilles tendon inflammation manifests itself both when the foot is at rest and while stepping. The moment you step down, the pain intensifies. It’s sharp but not shooting. 

The pain appears in the hind area of the heel and higher up to the calf muscle. In the muscle, you can often feel what are called “trigger points” – stiff areas where the muscle fibers are taut. 

💡 How to deal with an Achilles tendon inflammation:

  1. Treat yourself to some relaxation and a massage.  
  2. Stretch out the foot and the calf muscle. 
  3. Make sure you’re correctly using the whole foot. You’re not constricting your toes in a shoe; you’re actively using them. You’re rebounding with your toes, not just the strength of your calf.

💡 Foot pain appears when stepping down. What does this mean?

Stepping down can often intensify the problem because you’re burdening the foot. Focus on the place where it hurts when you step down. Then use this and go back to the relevant section of this article. 

💡 How do I recognize an inflammation in the foot?

You can recognize an acute inflammation by its sharp, intense pain. The foot hurts even at rest and the pain intensifies when stepping down. From the onset, however, the pain isn’t necessarily so distinct and can appear only when stepping down. 

If you suspect an inflammation, visit a doctor

We cause most of these problems ourselves. Step out of them and into a solution!

Have you taken a good look at the shape of modern shoes? It’s completely different than that of the foot! They constrict the toes and pinch the instep, and the heels of shoes tilt the foot. By wearing shoes like this, we’re setting ourselves up for many problems that we later have to deal with in complex ways through physiotherapists and operations. 

Do something for your feet right now – and avoid problems later. 

Walk barefoot as often as possible. And get shoes that respect your feet. Here’s how to recognize them: 

  • a wide, spacious toe box
  • a thin, flexible sole 
  • no heel (not even a small one)
  • light and flexible materials

These are shoes that will fit you the first time you put them on and they’ll bring you joy at every step. Have you found your own pair yet?

Safety disclaimer: 

This article has one shortcoming: It can’t be used to replace meeting with you in person and evaluating your health condition. That’s why it’s possible that some recommendations from this article might not apply to you. Consult with your doctor of physiotherapist – nothing can ever replace a personal examination.

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