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7 Common Foot Problems and How to Solve Them

Identify and treat plantar fasciitis, bunions and other ailments

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With every step, your feet take a pounding equivalent to up to 2.5 times your body weight. After decades of wear and tear, it’s no wonder foot woes start to crop up in your 50s. “Age plus weight plus inappropriate footwear plus genetics equals foot trouble,” says Eric Stamps, dean of the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University.

For most foot ailments, starting with an over-the-counter fix is usually OK, Stamps says. (See a foot doctor if pain is severe or things don’t get better in a week, or if the ailment interferes with your daily activities.)

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Here are seven common foot problems and the best (and worst) ways to treat them.

1. Collapsing arches

Symptoms: Pain or swelling along your instep. May worsen with activity.

Causes: Age-related inflammation and breakdown of the tendon that holds up your arches — the way cables support a bridge. Arch collapse is accelerated by extra pounds, high-impact activity, a history of foot and ankle injuries and low arches.

What You Shouldn’t Do: Stuff soft, squishy insoles or arch supports in your shoes. Pillowy softness won’t hold up sagging arches, says Laura Virtue-Delayo, president of the Pennsylvania Podiatric Medicine Association.

What You Should Do: Get firm arch support — either built into shoes or added as an orthotic.

2. Bunions

Symptoms: Pain, swelling and a bulging, bony bump at the base of your big toe. Your big toe angles inward and may overlap your second toe.

Causes: Blame inherited faulty foot mechanics, coupled with decades of wear and tear. Wearing tight, pointy shoes that squash your toes and forefoot makes things worse.

What You Shouldn’t Do: Believe a bunion splint or toe spacers will permanently straighten a crooked big toe.

What You Should Do: Wear shoes with a wide, deep toe box that makes plenty of room for the widest part of your foot.

3. Achilles tendon aches

Symptoms: Mild to severe pain along the back of your heel, or a sudden popping feeling. (Yikes!)

Causes: Tendons get drier, stiffer and weaker with age, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Strenuous sports and repetitive motions can inflame or even rupture the Achilles tendon.


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What You Shouldn’t Do: Soak in warm water. It may feel good, but it doesn’t reduce inflammation.

What You Should Do: Ice the tendon for 20 minutes at a time, Virtue-Delayo suggests. After it heals, calf stretches can help.

4. Plantar fasciitis

Symptoms: Sharp pain on the bottom of your heel when getting out of bed. Gets better during activity, worse afterward.

Causes: Age-related stiffening and degeneration of the plantar fascia — the thick tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot.

What You Shouldn’t Do: Pop pain relievers. “Fascia isn’t very vascular — there’s not much blood flow in it,” Virtue-Delayo says. “So pain relievers can’t help much.”

What You Should Do: Ice, stretch and wear lace-ups with a low heel or an over-the-counter heel insert, to take stress off the fascia.

5. Shrinking fat pads

Symptoms: You’re walking on marbles or directly on foot bones.

Causes: Aging breaks down the cushy slabs of shock-absorbing fat on the balls and heels of feet.

What You Shouldn’t Do: Opt too quickly for steroid injections for other foot woes, since steroids can thin fat pads.

What You Should Do: Wear cushy insoles and heel inserts, plus thick, moisture-wicking socks.​

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6. Morton's neuroma

Symptoms: Tingling, burning or numbness on the ball of your foot between the third and fourth toe. Discomfort or pain that starts out only occasionally, but eventually persists for days or weeks at a time.

Causes: The nerve between the third and fourth toe becomes irritated and then painful, but the exact cause of the irritation is unknown.  Certain foot problems such as bunions, flat feet, hammer toes or high arches may play a role.​

What you shouldn't do: Wear shoes that are too tight or high heels that compress and irritate the nerve. 

What you should do: Your doctor can show you how to pad your foot or may prescribe custom orthotic devices for your shoe to reduce pressure on the nerve. If necessary, cortisone injections into the affected area of the foot may help relieve the inflammation. If these treatments don't work, you may need surgery either to remove the nerve or the thickened tissue around the nerve. 

7. Toenail fungus

Symptoms: Loosened or lifted nail, crumbly, ragged or thickened nail, streaks or spots down the side of the nail, dark color, caused by buildup of debris under the nail

Causes: Microscopic organisms cause a fungal nail infection. You risk developing a toenail fungus if your feet perspire heavily or you often wear sweaty socks and shoes. Minor nail or skin injuries can provide a convenient entry for the fungus.

What you shouldn't do: Wear shoes that are too tight. Walk barefoot in public showers, swimming pools or gyms. Share toenail clippers. 

What you should do: Wash your feet regularly and dry them thoroughly. Wear socks made of synthetic fiber, which wick away moisture better than cotton or wool socks. Soak your feet daily in a mixture of one part white vinegar to two parts warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse well and pat your feet dry. If your feet become irritated, cut down to two or three times a week. 

Editor's note: This article, originally published Dec. 21, 2022, has been updated to reflect contributions from Nissa Simon.