Everyone has had a minor problem with a toe, foot, or ankle. Most of the time our body movements do not cause problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear or overuse. Toe, foot, or ankle problems can also occur from injuries or the natural process of aging.
Your toes, feet, or ankles may burn, sting, hurt, feel tired, sore, stiff, numb, tingly, hot, or cold. You may have had a "charley horse" (muscle cramp) in your foot while lying in bed at night. Your feet or ankles may change color or swell. You may have noticed an embarrassing odor from your feet. Some changes in your feet and ankles are normal as a person ages or during pregnancy. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to relieve your symptoms.
Toe, foot, or ankle problems may be caused by an injury. If you think an injury caused your problem, see the topic Toe, Foot, or Ankle Injuries. But there are many noninjury causes of toe, foot, or ankle problems.
Most skin problems that affect your feet are more annoying than they are serious. If you have:
- The feeling of walking on pebbles: You may have plantar warts on the bottom of your feet.
- Patches of thick and tough skin on the heel or ball of your foot: You may have a callus, corn, blister, or skin growth.
- Red, peeling, cracking, burning, and itchy skin between your toes or on the bottom of your feet: You may have athlete's foot. Or maybe your feet are reacting to the shoes you are wearing (shoe dermatitis).
- Red, swollen, and painful skin around a toenail: You may have an ingrown nail or an infection around your nail (paronychia).
- Red, swollen soles of your feet that are painful to the touch or when you walk: You may have a bacterial infection. Public showers, hot tubs, or swimming pools are common areas where bacterial infections, athlete's foot, and warts can be spread to your feet.
Toe joints are more likely to develop problems than other joints in your feet.
- Heat, pain, redness, swelling, and extreme tenderness that comes on quickly in your big toe joint may be caused by gout. Similar symptoms can occur with an infection.
- If you have swelling or a bump at the base of your big toe, you may have a bunion .
- If you have a bump on the outside of your little toe, you may have a bunionette , also called a Tailor's bunion.
- If your toes, other than your big toes, bend in an odd position, you may have hammer toes, mallet toes, or claw toes .
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are common when you have conditions such as bursitis, arthritis, lupus, or gout.
You may develop pain in the front (ball) of your foot (metatarsalgia) or in your heel. Heel problems commonly occur when you overuse calf muscles, wear shoes with high heels, or participate in activities, such as running, that cause repeated pounding on your heels.
- Sharp pain on the bottom of your heel may be caused by plantar fasciitis.
- Pain in the back of your heel and ankle may be caused by Achilles tendinitis or tendinosis (tendinopathy) or retrocalcaneal bursitis.
- Pain that is worse before or after exercise but improves during exercise may be caused by a stress fracture of a bone in your foot (usually a metatarsal bone).
- Small bony growths under your heel bone may be a heel spur.
- Pain in your midfoot may be caused by "fallen arches" or by being flat-footed.
- Pain or a bump on the back of the heel is a type of bursitis called Haglund's deformity.
Numbness or tingling
Many conditions may affect the nerves of the foot and cause numbness, tingling, and burning.
- Pain, burning, tingling, or numbness that occurs between your toes, especially the third and fourth toes, and in the ball of your foot may be caused by a growth around the nerves (Morton's neuroma).
- Pain, numbness, and tingling that begins in your back or buttock, moves down your leg, and into your foot may be sciatica, caused by a pinched nerve (nerve root compression).
- Foot and ankle pain that occurs with numbness and weakness in your foot may be caused by a pinched nerve in your ankle (tarsal tunnel syndrome) or back (sciatica).
- Burning, numbness, or lack of feeling in your feet may be caused by poor circulation, especially in people who have diabetes or peripheral arterial disease. The circulation problem can lead to nerve damage (peripheral neuropathies). Foot problems are more likely to develop in people who have these conditions.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.