STEPS TO WELLNESS: CAUSES AND TREATMENT OF FOOT PAIN
There are a number of different things that can cause foot pain. Identifying the underlying cause can be a huge step in learning how to treat the existing pain and prevent further suffering. In the absence of a defined cause, foot pain can still be prevented through special inserts in the shoes, exercises designed to strengthen and stretch the muscles, and other methods that will help relieve pain and improve quality of life.
Millions of people struggle with foot pain, and depending on the source of the pain, it may be mild or severe. There are many causes of foot pain, some of which can be easily treated and others that present a more challenging case. Below are some conditions that can lead to chronic foot pain:
Plantar fasciitis is a foot condition that causes the soles of your feet to swell and become tender. The area where most of the pain is concentrated is called the plantar, and the tissue band that runs across the sole of your foot is referred to as the fascia, hence the name of the disorder. Medical professionals do not yet know why plantar fasciitis occurs in some individuals and not others, but injury, obesity, footwear that does not fit properly and genetics are sometimes factors.
The disorder can usually be diagnosed without extensive testing, as its most common, hallmark symptom is sole pain upon rising in the morning or following extensive periods of inactivity.
In certain instances, bone spurs exacerbate the disorder. Also called osteocites, these spurs are essentially bony protrusions that generally grow in the heel area. In many cases, they irritate the surrounding tissue, leading to inflammation of the fascia.
Applying ice or soaking your feet may alleviate pain or discomfort on a temporary basis. Wearing proper shoes and elevating your feet are also measures you can take to lessen your discomfort. Applying ice is also a simple, but effective way to temporarily reduce your pain. Wearing proper shoes and avoiding prolonged standing will also decrease the duration of the severity of your symptoms. You may also find relief with over-the-counter analgesics such as topical creams or ibuprofen. In certain cases, physical therapy may be recommended if your symptoms are severe.
Among other causes of foot pain is Diabetic neuropathy, which is a condition resulting from nerve damage. Because diabetics often have high amounts of sugar in their blood, they are at risk for poor circulation. If you are a diabetic and have been told you have diabetic neuropathy, it is likely because of poor circulation. Eventually, the lack of circulation to your extremities creates nerve damage. Symptoms may be numbness, tingling, odd sensations and a feeling of thickness along the bottom of the foot. The neuropathy can develop in any area of the body, but the overwhelming majority of cases are in the feet.
Treatment for diabetic neuropathy includes physical therapy, medication, and in some cases holistic treatments, such as acupuncture. Because there is no known cure for the disorder, treatment is palliative rather than curative, and the type of treatment your doctor will recommend depends on a variety of factors, such as your individual symptoms and how long the condition has been present.
The majority of treatment options focus on controlling the severity and duration of the symptoms and preventing exacerbation. Taking blood sugar medication as directed is the first course of treatment, as this in and of itself will have a positive impact on your condition.
Over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium are sometimes recommended. However, the most effective drugs for diabetic neuropathy according to most medical professionals are nerve blocking medications such as Neurontin and Lyrica. Topical creams such as lidocaine may help considerably as well.
Achilles tendinitis is a condition that results from overuse of the Achilles tendon. The latter is the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone.
Achilles tendinitis frequently occurs in runners, and therefore if you have suddenly increased the duration or intensity of your running, it may be the reason you have developed Achilles tendinitis. Middle-aged individuals who play sports such as basketball or tennis only on the weekends, may suffer from flare-ups of this type of tendinitis on an intermittent basis. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, which is not uncommon, you will be happy to know there are many effective treatments.
Most cases of Achilles tendinitis can be effectively treated with simple, at home remedies provided you use them under the supervision of your doctor. Self-care strategies are typically needed to prevent additional episodes in the future. NSAIDs, such as aspirin, naproxen sodium, ibuprofen or prescription baclofen are very helpful in easing the pain and stress in the back of the heel, which is typically the source of your pain. When these drugs are taken in conjunction with rest, you may feel release in as little as a few days.
Cortisone injections may be suggested as well, but it is important to understand that there is a risk of such injections causing your arches to fall, and this should be discussed with your doctor before you make a final decision. Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and tendons in the area is often recommended for more advanced cases of Achilles tendinitis.
Shoe inserts or wedges designed to slightly elevate your heel can reduce strain on the tendon and offer a cushion that decreases the level of force exerted on the tendon. If several months passed and you have experienced little or no improvement, your physician may suggest a simple surgery to repair your Achilles tendon. The surgery is not associated with excessive risk and can usually be completed on an outpatient basis.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a condition that narrows the tarsal tunnel – the canal that runs along the inside of the ankle and up the leg and houses thin tendons, arteries and nerves. One of the nerves within the tarsal tunnel is the tibial nerve, which is responsible for providing sensation to the bottom of your foot. If this nerve is compressed due to this narrowing, it is referred to as tarsal tunnel syndrome.
One of the many causes of foot pain, tarsal tunnel syndrome is not nearly as uncommon as many individuals believe. This may be due to the many different factors that can contribute to its development. For example, having fallen arches or flat feet can produce strain that compresses the tibial nerve. Ankle sprains that never healed properly may also be the culprit. Additionally, diseases such as diabetes or arthritis that lead to swelling may eventually cause the nerve compression seen with this disorder.
It may also come from a bone spur, swollen tendon, ganglion cyst or varicose vein. One of the primary symptoms is shooting pain in your foot that comes and goes with no warning. You may also experience numbness, or burning or tingling sensations. X-rays and MRIs often help with the diagnosis, but many physicians diagnose the syndrome based solely on a positive tinel’s sign, which is essentially a vibrating, electrical sensation that shoots from the inner ankle up to the knee when the ankle bone is tapped with a reflex mallet.
Whenever possible, your doctor will prescribe nonsurgical treatment options prior to recommending surgery or any invasive procedure. Placing ice over the ankle bone, elevating the foot, and wearing a night brace to keep the foot in a neutral position can substantially alleviate your symptoms. If you have the habit of sitting with one leg curled under your body, your doctor will tell you to cease this activity at once, as it can not only cause tarsal tunnel syndrome to occur, but exacerbates symptoms if you currently suffer from the condition. There are several medications that are helpful in reducing swelling and pressure, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers. Surgery is available, but as previously mentioned is typically only recommended as a last resort.
Gout is characterized by severe, sudden attacks of swelling, tenderness, redness and pain in the joints, and for reasons yet unknown, the joint at the base of the big toe is the most common area for the condition to present. It is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood and can cause pain and discomfort midway down the foot, and sometimes further, depending on which nerves become irritated during the attack. Classified as a complex form of arthritis, gout can affect anyone, although men are more likely to suffer from the disorder. After menopause, however, women’s risks for the disorder increase.
Gout is a treatable disorder, and usually involves medication. Your doctor will probably begin with ibuprofen, as anti-inflammatories are the first line of defense when an attack is underway. Allopurinol or colchicine, which were developed to decrease uric acid in the blood, among other functions, are often recommended also. In severe cases, corticosteroids might be suggested by your physician, but ultimately the type of medication he or she recommends will depend on your specific symptoms, their severity and frequency.
Because there are many causes of foot pain, it is never wise to self-diagnose. Rather, you should make an appointment with your primary care practitioner to discover the underlying cause of your foot discomfort and seek the appropriate and most effective treatment for your condition. Tell your doctor all your symptoms and any medication you may have taken.