The foot is one of the most complex parts of the human body. Each foot is made up of 26 different bones that are connected by 33 joints, 42 muscles, and 50-plus tendons and ligaments.
Your feet handle an incredible amount of physical stress as they flex, stretch, and bear hundreds of tons of force every day—the cumulative effect of carrying your weight as you move from one place to another. This puts the various parts of your foot at risk of injury and other problems that cause pain and inflammation, and limit your mobility.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Foot Pain and Problems
With a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon who is fellowship-trained in foot and ankle care as well as four podiatrists, Cooper is home to one of South Jersey’s largest and most comprehensive teams focused on foot pain and problems. You can count on us for:
- Convenient access to care, close to home: Cooper’s foot and ankle specialists see patients at all our community-based locations as well as in Camden, so you don’t have to travel far to get outstanding care for foot pain and problems
- Advanced treatment options: We offer a full range of the latest conservative (nonsurgical) and surgical treatment options, including:
- Nonsurgical treatments including physical therapy, prescription orthotics, platelet-rich plasma injections to speed healing, and image-guided cortisone injections
- Surgical treatments including minimally invasive or arthroscopic surgery, reconstructive surgery and surgical realignment of foot deformities
- A multidisciplinary approach to care: Some foot problems require multiple specialists for effective care; as an academic health system, Cooper has experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you streamlined access to all the expertise you need, all in one place
Common Foot Problems
A heel spur is an overgrowth of bone on the heel bone. It usually occurs on the underside of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. This connective tissue holds the arch together and acts as a shock absorber during activity.
If the plantar fascia is injured from running, poor-fitting shoes, or carrying too much weight, you may feel heel pain from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone. Over time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress, resulting in heel spurs. Treatment may include:
- Cold packs
- Anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen
- Proper stretching before activity
- Proper footwear or shoe inserts
- Corticosteroid injections
- Surgery if the condition is severe
Corns are yellowish, hard calluses (thickened layers of skin) that develop on top of the toes. They often form in response to friction, such as where a toe repeatedly rubs against a shoe or another toe. Corns can cause extreme discomfort and pain.
Treatment depends on the severity of the corn(s) and may include:
- Trimming the corn by shaving the layers of dead skin
- Applying pads around the corn area
- Wearing larger shoes that comfortably fit your foot without rubbing
To prevent corns from developing, be sure to wear shoes that fit properly.
A bunion is a painful bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe or the little toe. Bunions often occur when there is stress on the toe joint over time.
Women get bunions more often than men because they frequently wear tight, pointed shoes that squeeze the toes together. Bunions can also be a result of arthritis, which often affects the big toe joint.
Treatment of bunions varies depending on the severity of pain and deformity, and may include:
- Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes that do not cause pressure areas
- Applying cushioning pads to the affected area
- Pain relievers
- Surgery for extremely painful bunions
Morton neuroma is a buildup of benign (noncancerous) tissue in the nerves running between the long bones of the foot. It occurs when two bones rub together and squeeze the nerve between them. Most often, neuromas develop between the bones leading to the third and fourth toes.
Morton neuroma causes swelling, tenderness and pain. If the pain becomes severe, it may cause tingling, numbness and burning in the toes. Symptoms usually occur after long periods of standing or walking.
Treatment for this condition may involve:
- Wearing shoes that do not restrict the foot
- Cortisone injections
A hammertoe is a deformity in which there’s an abnormal upward bend in the middle joint of a toe due to a weakened muscle. Hammertoe usually affects the second, third and/or fourth toes.
The affected toe(s) may be painful or difficult to move. Tight-fitting shoes that put pressure on the hammertoe often aggravate this condition, and a corn or callus will frequently develop on the affected joint.
Treatment for hammertoes may include:
- Wearing a toe pad to cushion the affected joint
- Wearing roomier footwear to accommodate the deformed toe
An ankle sprain is an injury to the ligaments in the ankle. Ligaments are bands of tough, flexible tissue that connect bones to each other. Ankle sprains may occur if the ankle rolls, turns or twists beyond its normal range of motion.
Ankle sprains may be caused by awkward foot placement, walking on irregular surfaces, weak muscles, loose ligaments, or wearing (and falling off) shoes with high heels or platforms.
The symptoms of a sprain depend on how severely the ligaments are stretched or torn, but usually include swelling, pain and/or bruising. Treatment depends on the severity of the sprain and may include:
- Wrapping the ankle with an elastic bandage or tape
- Applying an ice pack to help reduce inflammation
- Elevating the ankle
- Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help reduce pain and inflammation
- A walking cast (for moderate sprains)
- Surgery (for severe sprains)
- Physical therapy
Almost any one of the 26 bones in the foot can be broken. When such a fracture occurs, the site of the injury usually is painful and swollen. The site of the fracture will determine the course of treatment, if needed, including:
- Ankle joint fractures: These fractures may be serious and require immediate medical attention. Ankle fractures usually require a cast, and surgery may be indicated if the bones are severely separated or misaligned.
- Metatarsal bone fractures: Fractures of the metatarsal bones, in the middle of the foot, often do not require a cast; a stiff-soled shoe may provide enough support as the foot heals. Surgery may be needed to correct misaligned bones or fractured segments.
- Sesamoid bone fractures: The sesamoid bones are 2 small, round bones at the end of the metatarsal bone of the big toe; usually, padded soles can help relieve the pain of this type of fracture. Sometimes, however, the sesamoid bone must be surgically removed.
- Toe fractures: Fractures of the toes normally can heal with or without a cast
This condition is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick band of tissue that runs the length of the sole of the foot, connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. Its main symptom is severe pain in the heel, especially when standing up after resting.
Plantar fasciitis is more common in women, and in people who are overweight, whose jobs require a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces, or have flat feet or high arches. Walking or running, especially with tight calf muscles, may also cause this condition. Treatment may include:
- Applying ice to reduce inflammation
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Exercises to stretch the Achilles tendons and plantar fascia
Achilles tendon injury
The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. This tendon is also the most common site of rupture or tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse.
Symptoms may include mild pain after exercise that gradually worsens, stiffness that disappears after the tendon warms up, and swelling. Treatment may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Supportive devices and/or bandages
- Therapeutic ultrasound
- Strengthening exercises
Diabetes-Related Foot Problems
Having diabetes puts you at increased risk of developing foot problems. That’s because diabetes can cause nerve damage that reduces sensation in the feet. It may also reduce blood flow to the feet, making it harder to heal from an injury or fight infection.
People with diabetes must check their feet regularly to identify sores or wounds before complications develop. Left untreated, they could lead to foot ulcers, infections and even amputation. In fact, people with diabetes are 20 times more likely to undergo amputation.
Most diabetes-related foot problems can be prevented with regular foot care at home, and getting a professional foot check from a podiatrist at least once a year. You should see your doctor sooner if you notice any of these symptoms in your feet:
- Tingling “pins-and-needles” sensation, like numbness
- Burning pain
- A dull ache
- Shiny smooth skin on your feet
- Hair loss on your legs and feet
- Loss of sensation in your feet or legs
- Swollen feet
- Your feet don’t sweat
- Wounds or sores that don’t heal
- Cramps in your calves when walking or resting