5 Common Causes of Foot Pain and How to Deal with Them

Foot pain presents a unique set of symptoms. The use of holistic, natural remedies can prevent a flare-up of the different conditions.

Woman holding her left ankle in pain

Identifying different foot pain symptoms can help you decipher the specific problem you’re facing. In the same way, understanding the anatomy of your foot and the location of the pain can help you relieve your discomfort effectively.

Here are some of the most common causes of foot pain and ways to remedy them naturally.

Woman holding the heel of her right foot
Heel spurs, a result of the body replacing cartilage lost to osteoarthritis, leads to foot pain.

5 Notable Causes of Foot Pain

The foot consists of the ankles, arches, heels, and toes. Foot pain usually stems from problems affecting the ligaments, tendons, and ankle and toe joints. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), some of the clinical problems that commonly affect people include:

1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage which cushions the ends of bones starts to break down. This results in changes to the bone structure. It can also deteriorate the connective tissues that hold the joints together and attach muscles to bones. Eventually, cartilage breakdown will cause a person’s bones to rub against each other. Prolonged or severe arthritis, on the other hand, can result in joint deformities.

2. Diabetic neuropathy

A common complication of diabetes mellitus (DM), diabetic neuropathy, affects 50% of people with type 1 or 2 DM and causes nerve damage. There are four types of diabetic neuropathy:

  • Autonomic neuropathy, which refers to nerve damage that controls a person’s internal organs and cause systemic disorders.
  • Focal neuropathy, a single nerve damage that affects a person’s hand, head, leg, or torso.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, which is prevalent amongst people with diabetes and causes pain, numbness and weakness in the arms or legs.
  • Proximal neuropathy, a rare nerve damage that typically affects one side of your body – for example in the hips, buttocks, and thigh.

3. Heel spur 

“Joint damage from osteoarthritis is the most common cause of bone spurs,” says Chief TCM Physician Chu I Ta from Real Health Medical Clinic. This is because osteoarthritis causes a breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones. Therefore, to repair the loss of cartilage, the body creates bone spurs around the affected area.

4. Rheumatoid arthritis 

An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), affects various joints simultaneously. These include the joints in the hands, knees, and wrists. Joints with RA can also become inflamed and cause tissue damage. Consequently, this can lead to deformities, a lack of balance, and chronic, long-lasting pain.

5. Tendinitis and Achilles tendinitis

Tendinitis is often the by-product of a sudden injury. Repetition of a particular movement can also aggravate the condition over time. For instance, working in a hazardous job or exercise involving repetitive motions — playing golf or tennis — can stress the tendons and put a person at risk of tendinitis.

Achilles tendinitis occurs when the large tendon that runs down the back of your lower leg becomes inflamed or irritated. Interestingly, this condition can be described as either insertional or non-insertional Achilles tendinitis. Insertional Achilles tendinitis can occur at any time but is mainly the result of years of overuse. It can also cause the formation of bone spurs — extra bone growth.

On the contrary, non-insertional Achilles tendinitis causes the fibres in the middle part of the tendon to break down with tiny tears, causing it to swell and thicken. This type of Achilles tendinitis is more common amongst physically active young adults.

Woman soaking her feet in a tub of water as she is about to drop a spoonful of salt in
Soaking feet in water mixed with salt or Chinese herbs can help to boost circulation and reduce foot pain. 

Natural Treatments to Alleviate Foot Pain

Managing foot pain starts with understanding that each problem can be classified as either acute or chronic injury. Acute injuries are usually short-term, happen quickly and recover easily with the right treatment. These injuries typically occur due to sports or trauma and put an instant, forceful impact on the ankle or feet, causing joint contusions.

Conversely, chronic foot pain is the result of recurring past injuries or constant pressure on a particular area. Bad posture or physical stress can also aggravate tissue inflammation. A sedentary lifestyle, too, prevents a strengthening of muscles and tendons, triggering foot pain.

Foot baths and herbal ingredients

This method is effective in improving conditions like diabetic neuropathy. A 20-minute foot bath that involves salt and Chinese herbs can help improve blood circulation in a person’s legs. These herbs include ginger or ingredients like mugwort (ai ye), Carthamus tinctorius (hong hua), and Prunus davidiana Franch (tao ren). In addition, foot baths can also alleviate the discomfort linked to heel spurs as it’s neither an acute injury nor an inflammatory condition.

“TCM believes in “不通则痛,通则不痛” (when there is no flow, there is pain, when there is flow, there is no pain),” says Physician Chu, adding that it emphasises improving qi (vital life energy) and blood circulation, which is the key to recovery from all injuries.

“Herbs like ru xiang (frankincense), mo yao (myrrh), chi shao (Paeonia anomala), and san qi (panax notoginseng) are commonly used herbs for sports or traumatic injury,” he explains.

The consumption of a herbal formulation that contains collagen hydrolysate can also help to slow the progression of a condition like osteoarthritis.

Acupressure and acupuncture

An illustration of tai xi (Kl3) acupoint to alleviate foot pain, located near the Achilles tendon.
Whenever you feel a stabbing pain on your foot, massage this acupoint in circular motion to relax the muscles.

Needling is especially beneficial for arthritis management, as it can suppress inflammation and enhance circulation around a localised joint. Selected acupressure points that relate directly to the prevention of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis flare-ups are: 

  •  Gong Sun (SP4), Jie Xi (ST41) 
  • Ran Gu (KI2) 
  • Tai Chong (LR3) 
  • Tai Xi (KI3) 
  • Yong Quan (KI1) 
  • San Yin Jiao (SP6).  

The stimulation of localised or distant acupoints also helps with treating a locally injured tendon and distant muscles to boost joint mobility.

Additionally, acupuncture can relax the inflammation and swelling caused by Achilles tendinitis by promoting positive blood and qi circulation as well as repairing tissue damage.

Physiotherapy

There are several steps that can prevent the distinct types of foot pain. Firstly, warm up, stretch, and cool down before and after every exercise. Secondly, ensure that your shoes fit well and provide good arch support.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to do away with heel spur discomfort, you can opt for calf and Achilles tendon stretches to reduce pressure and tension on the heel. Another way to achieve pain relief is to perform a myofascial massage on the soles of your feet. You can do this by placing a myofascial ball in the centre of your feet soles and letting your toes hang loosely. Then, shift your weight onto the foot that’s on the ball. Roll the ball back and forth gently to improve circulation.

Tuina

TCM remedies such as tuina and acupuncture relieve Achilles tendinitis by instantly taking pressure off bone joints. Tuina can also help adjust misaligned bones, ligaments, and tendons to their original position. Nevertheless, avoid this if the muscle tissues are swollen or inflamed.

There are many factors that cause foot pain, which can affect your day-to-day activities. If you’re suffering from a particular foot condition, keep the symptoms in check and see a doctor or TCM practitioner for a thorough diagnosis.

References

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic Neuropathy. [Accessed 13 November 2021]
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. [Accessed 13 November 2021]
  3. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Achilles Tendinitis. [Accessed 13 November 2021]
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Rheumatoid Arthritis. [Accessed 13 November 2021]

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