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.
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
Patches of thick and tough skin on the heel or ball of your
foot: You may have a
callus, corn, blister, or skin
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).
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
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.
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that the child can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep,
and can’t do anything else except focus on the pain. No one can tolerate severe
pain for more than a few hours.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt the child’s normal activities and
sleep, but the child can tolerate it for hours or days.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The child notices and may complain of the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt his or her sleep or activities.
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood
supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons
for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn
blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color
returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area
looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and
this change does not go away.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can’t stand it for more than a few hours, can’t sleep, and
can’t do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it’s severe when it’s
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
and arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
have one, seek care today.
If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
seek care in the morning.
Most minor toe, foot, or ankle
problems go away on their own. Home treatment is usually all that is needed to
relieve your pain, swelling, and stiffness.
If you have swelling, be sure to remove all rings, anklets, or any other jewelry that goes around your leg or ankle.
It will be harder to remove your jewelry if swelling increases, which
in turn can cause other serious problems, such as nerve compression or
restricted blood flow.
Stop, change, or take a break from any activities that
cause your symptoms.
Avoid “running through the pain,” which may
increase damage to your foot.
Consider changing your exercise
routine if you think running or another high-impact sport is causing your foot
pain. Switch temporarily to a low-impact exercise activity, such as
cross-country skiing, stair-climbing machines, bicycling (regular or
stationary), rowing, or swimming.
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Try home treatment for these other foot problems such
Foot cramps. Try the following home treatment to
help relieve leg cramps:
Straighten your leg.
foot and pull it toward you. It is probably easiest to do this from a sitting
position. You can loop a towel around the end of your foot and pull it toward
you if you have trouble reaching your foot.
Gently rub or massage
Calluses and corns. Home treatment may help relieve discomfort from
corns, calluses, or other thickened skin:
To thin a corn or callus, rub the thickened
skin with a towel after a shower or bath.
Use a pumice stone after
bathing to reduce the tissue. Do not do this if you have
peripheral arterial disease, or an immune system problem, or if you have been told that you have
poor circulation in your feet.
The following tips may prevent toe, foot,
or ankle problems.
Bathe your feet daily in lukewarm (not hot)
water. Use a mild soap, preferably one containing moisturizers, or use a
Avoid problems by wearing good footwear. Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. Support weak or unstable ankles by using a brace or
taping before exercise or activities that increase your risk of
Wear the correct size panty hose and stockings. Avoid
wearing constricting garters, knee-high, or thigh-high
Use a rubber mat to stand on if your work requires you
to stand on hard surfaces. This may reduce stress on your
Maintain a reasonable weight for your height.
Do stretching exercises for the tendons at the back of
the heels. This is especially important for athletes before sports activities
but is also helpful for people who are not involved with
Walk regularly to improve circulation, increase
flexibility, reduce fatigue, and encourage bone and muscle