With 26 bones connected by 33 joints and more than 100, tendons, muscles and ligaments, the foot’s complex anatomy provides stability and support for the body, allowing you to stand, walk, run and move through your day upright.

Absorbing the impact of several times your body weight, your feet are susceptible to a variety of pain-inducing injuries and chronic ailments that can significantly impact mobility and daily quality of life.

Endeavor Health orthopaedic surgeon and foot and ankle specialist James Bogener, MD, summarizes three common foot problems and steps to prevent or treat potentially sidelining injuries.

  1. Plantar fasciitis

    Heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis is the most common foot complaint that brings people to a physician for treatment, and close to half of all adults in the United States will experience the painful inflammation on the bottom of their foot.

    “Sometimes plantar fasciitis pain improves even if you don’t do anything to treat it, but stretching is the first and best line of treatment,” said Dr. Bogener. Simple calf stretches standing arm’s length from the wall, hands against the wall just below eye level with the painful foot stepped back and toes turned slightly inward will stretch the back of the calf. Keeping the back knee straight and bending the front knee will help the stretch. Start with two sets of 8-10 reps, holding the stretch for 30 seconds, and work up to two sets 8-10 times a day. It’s a good idea to do the stretches when you first wake up in the morning.

    Avoiding walking barefoot is another important way to treat plantar fasciitis. “There’s a lot of bad information out there and snake oil kind of ‘cures,’ so you need to be careful about where you are getting treatment advice,” said Dr. Bogener. Avoiding running or other activities that put impact or pounding on the feet can also help.

    For some people, plantar fasciitis will get better with consistent stretching in a few weeks, but for many it can take more than a year for the pain to go away. Surgical treatment is a last resort and people should wait a minimum of six months of conservative treatment before even considering a surgical procedure, said Dr. Bogener. If you increase your activity level and you have more pain in your foot, it’s important to see a physician and rule out the possibility of a stress fracture.

     

  2. Bunions

    Bunions, which people can be genetically predisposed to, are another very common complaint. What looks like a bump on the side of the foot is actually a crooked big toe joint, explained Dr. Bogener. Not everyone who has bunions experiences pain with them, though for some people they can cause discomfort and difficulty in finding shoes that fit comfortably.

    “You want to make sure that shoes fit your feet and are not rubbing on the bunion,” said Dr. Bogener.

     

  3. Achilles tendonitis

    Achilles tendonitis, which is often related to plantar fasciitis, causes pain at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon connects to the bone. Stretching is the best treatment, though it often will make the pain worse before it gets better. “It’s counter-intuitive, and we often have to keep telling patients that it will get better, but they need to continue daily stretching,” he added.

    Some patients benefit from seeing a physical therapist to help ensure proper form and even accountability in stretching and strengthening exercises. Icing can also help decrease localized pain at the Achilles tendon.

     

Remaining active and living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent or improve foot pain. There’s scientific literature to show that smoking puts you at a higher risk of foot pain, and quitting smoking can improve painful conditions, said Dr. Bogener.

Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes is also important for maintaining healthy feet, he said. “You should not have to break in shoes.”

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