Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. Walking is low-impact; it doesn’t require fancy or expensive equipment, helps improve blood flow, and can lower blood pressure, amongst other benefits. Fundamentally, walking is how we get around.
Because we rely on this form of movement, we must keep our feet healthy to ensure walking is pain-free. However, the feet are complex, and some foot conditions may make walking painful or uncomfortable. The foot contains more than 25 bones. More broadly, the foot splits into three sections: the toes, the midfoot, and the heel and low ankle. The foot’s various bones and muscles need to work in unison. If not, biomechanical abnormalities can cause multiple foot conditions.
This article explores five main reasons why your feet hurt when walking.
Common foot conditions
If you experience pain in the heel of your foot, it could be plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue (called the fascia) that runs along the bottom of the foot. The fascia connects the heel of the foot to your toes. Pain when walking would be felt within the bottom of the foot, specifically the underside of your heel.
Since most people heel strike (I.e., the first body part to touch the ground), much of the impact of walking or running is in the plantar. The band can tear, swell, and inflame when the plantar fascia becomes overloaded or damaged.
Plantar fasciitis develops over time rather than being an acute injury. If recognized early, treatment can be as simple as rest and icing. Early signs and symptoms include a dull pain in the heel of the foot and bottom of the foot pain first thing in the morning.
Pain in the ball of your foot may be metatarsalgia. The ball of your foot lies between your arch and toes. Metatarsalgia is a condition where the ball of the foot becomes inflamed. It is usually a result of overuse or faulty foot mechanics. Inflammation of the bones and soft tissue follows.
You may experience pain in the arch of your foot when walking. A common cause of pain when walking is flat feet. Flat feet are not necessarily a condition but rather a biomechanical abnormality which may cause imbalances in the bones and muscles of your feet. Uneven distribution of weight when walking can put added stress on specific parts of the foot.
A low or collapsed arch characterizes flat feet. Flat foot disrupts the foot’s biomechanics by impeding the arch’s ability to properly support our body weight and absorb the force of our movement. The load is then displaced onto the toes, ankles, knees, hips and lower back. As a result, pain can develop in these areas and the feet.
You may suffer from Morton’s neuroma if you experience pain in the base of your toes. Morton’s neuroma is a foot condition that targets the balls of your feet – most often in the area between your third and fourth toes. The foot condition arises when the toe’s tissues thicken and swell, eventually leading to inflammation, pain, and a tingling/numbing sensation. A familiar anecdote for Morton’s neuroma is akin to having a pebble in your shoe.
You may experience pain from Morton’s neuroma during walking because of your gait. When walking, you typically land on your heel and take off with your toes and forefoot. Thus, if the pain you experience is more on the “up” than the “down” of how you walk, the underlying condition could be Morton’s neuroma.
You may experience pain anywhere in your foot as a result of arthritis. Arthritis is a broad term that describes a disease known for inflammation (redness, swelling, and pain) in the body’s joints. We can break arthritis more broadly into several specific foot conditions. Types of arthritis that may impact your ability to walk and cause pain include:
- Hallux rigidus: Hallux rigidus is arthritis of the big toe. When one suffers from hallux rigidus, the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP) stiffens. Over time, arthritis can lead to a bone spur.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Consistent wear and tear over time cause the cartilage between the joints in your body to break down.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease that causes chronic joint inflammation. It commonly targets the small joints in the feet by attacking the tissue and causing inflammation and calcification. The result is stiff joints, chronic pain, and joint dysfunction.
Foot pain treatment
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This essential combination of treatments is highly effective against several chronic foot conditions. RICE allows for proper rest and promotes recovery by reducing inflammation and promoting blood flow.
Custom orthotics are custom-built corrective shoe inserts designed to support the unique structures of our feet. Orthotics act to correct or accommodate biomechanical abnormalities, foot deformities, and a variety of joint and muscle conditions. Orthotics intend to improve your gait, manage pain, and better disperse your body’s weight when walking and running.
The correct footwear is critical for healthy feet. For instance, proper footwear can provide structure, balance, support, and protection when walking. Ill-fitting shoes are the leading cause of foot pain and problems: according to a study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research in 2018, “Between 63 and 72% of participants were wearing shoes that did not accommodate either width or length dimensions of their feet”. A study done amongst older adults in 2020 also found that 90% we wearing shoes with worn-out soles.
Visit our chiropodists
Our dedicated licensed chiropodists are committed to providing quality care and services for all your foot and ankle needs. Chiropodists can diagnose, treat and help manage various foot conditions, from callus removal to ingrown toenails to bunions.