“This is by far the most common problem I see in my middle-aged patients,” says Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM, a podiatrist in Newark, OH. Plantar fasciitis is an overuse syndrome that causes painful inflammation of the band of fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot (called the plantar fascia). “You don’t find plantar fasciitis in children—they heal too quickly. And you don’t find it in older folks because they’re not out there doing activities that would contribute to it,” says Oster. Yet if you’re somewhere in the 40- to 65-year-old range, you may be more likely to experience heel pain, especially if you’re carrying around extra pounds. “The force on your feet is about 120% of your weight,” says Oster. “Over time, that causes the tissue in the foot to become less elastic,” leading to pain.
These painful deformities of the great toe (bunions) and smaller toes (hammertoes) can be genetic, but they get worse if you consistently wear too-tight shoes, says Suzanne C. Fuchs, DPM, a holistic podiatrist and fitness specialist in New Hyde Park, NY. “These joints commonly become painful when shoes rub against them and cause inflammation, swelling, and redness,” she says. With bunions, a firm, painful bump develops at the base of the big toe, sometimes causing that toe to veer diagonally toward the second toe. Hammertoes happen when one of the toe muscles becomes weak and, as a result, puts pressure on the tendons and joints in one or more toes, causing the toe to stick up at the joint.
While most of us think of these areas of thick skin as simply unsightly, calluses are pressure spots that can be painful when you walk, says Oster. Interestingly, they’re actually the body’s way of preventing painful blisters from developing. Without a callus, the pressure and friction would irritate your skin to the point of creating those painful, fluid-filled bubbles you know as blisters. However, that doesn’t help if your calluses—oftentimes on the ball of the foot, the heel, or the top of bunions or hammertoes—keep you from hitting your favorite walking route. (Should you pop a blister? Find out here.)
Your Achilles tendon, which attaches to your heel bone at the back of your foot, can become irritated and inflamed when it’s overused, says Fuchs. The result is tendonitis, and runners are particularly susceptible, she says, as are those who regularly wear high heels. Other potential, though not as common, causes include inflammatory illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
The fix: Rest, ice, repeat. The sooner you nip this problem in the bud, the better, says Fuchs, which is why she recommends avoiding any activity that aggravates your pain for a week to a month. When you feel even a little twinge, ice the area ASAP. Your doc may also suggest you take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory to ease your discomfort and quiet the inflammation.