Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan
What’s Causing Your Foot Pain?
Published | 6 min read
Don't let foot pain cause you to miss out on life. Find out what's causing your pain here and learn natural tips to remedy it so you can get moving again.
Unlike other body pains, foot pain is hard to ignore. After all, you need your feet to walk and get places, and any pain that prevents you from being mobile can severely affect your quality of life.
However, identifying what’s causing your foot pain is not always easy. It may be due to an underlying health condition, poor workout technique, or something else. Here are five reasons why you may be experiencing foot pain, and what to do about it.
5 Common 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:
Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that 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 refers to nerve damage that controls a person’s internal organs (Heart, Bladder, Stomach, Intestines, Sex Organs, and Eyes) and causes systemic disorders.
- Focal neuropathy is single nerve damage that affects a person’s hand, head, leg, or torso. It causes muscle weakness or pain.
- Peripheral neuropathy, which is prevalent amongst people with diabetes and causes pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the feet and legs first, followed by the hands and arms.
- Proximal neuropathy is rare nerve damage that typically affects one side of your body – for example in the hips, buttocks, and thigh.
3. Heel Spurs
“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 Pain
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 caused by degeneration of the tendon over time. The average patient is in their 40s. It can also cause the formation of bone spurs — extra bone growth.
On the contrary, non-insertional Achilles tendinitis causes the fibers 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.
How To Treat Foot Pain Naturally
Managing foot pain starts with understanding that each problem can be classified as either an 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 the strengthening of muscles and tendons, triggering foot pain.
Herbal Products And Baths For Foot Pain
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, safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, Hong Hua), and peach kernel (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 when there is no flow, there is pain; and when there is flow, there is no pain,” says Physician Chu, adding that it emphasizes improving qi (vital life energy) and blood circulation, which is the key to recovery from all injuries.
“Herbs like frankincense (Ru Xiang), myrrh (Mo Yao), Peonia anomala (Chi Shao ), and Panax notoginseng (San Qi) are commonly used herbs for sports or traumatic injury,” he explains.
The consumption of a herbal formulation that contains collagen hydrolysate or Cornu Cervi Pantotrichum can also help to slow the progression of a condition like osteoarthritis.
Treating Foot Pain With Acupressure And Acupuncture
Needling is especially beneficial for arthritis management, as it can suppress inflammation and enhance circulation around a localized 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 localized 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.
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 center 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 Massage For Foot Pain
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.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic Neuropathy.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Achilles Tendinitis.
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Rheumatoid Arthritis.
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