Why Does my Foot Suddenly Hurt?
Sudden foot pain immediately following an injury obviously needs immediate diagnosis and treatment. Pain can set in immediately following an obvious injury, but many injuries and other medical conditions associated with sudden foot pain may not cause any discomfort for days, weeks or even years after an injury or overuse.
These can catch us by surprise, seemingly out of nowhere and won't go away.
Here are descriptions of five common causes of sudden foot pain, measures you can take at home to ease the pain before and after you see your doctor, and preventive tips to help keep your feet feeling the best they can.
Sprains are injuries to the long, flexible fibers called ligaments that wrap around joints. Ligaments hold bones together. They can be twisted into an unnatural position, stretching the fibers too far or tearing them. Sprain pain is felt in the muscle or joint accompanied by swelling, bruising, stiff joints, and bleeding if serious enough.
- Apply ice immediately at the site of the sprain to reduce swelling.
- Wrap the ice or ice bag in cloth instead of placing it directly on the skin.
- Firmly but not too tightly wrap the area with a bandage to limit movement.
- Keep the swollen foot elevated above the heart as much as possible when awake and when sleeping.
- Keep pressure off and let the joint rest for several days.
- Pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin can help ease discomfort, but DO NOT give aspirin to children.
It takes a mild sprain about a week to ten days to heal. A severe sprain can take weeks for the pain to subside. Your doctor may recommend crutches to help keep pressure off while allowing you to move about, and physical therapy can strengthen the area and help you regain a range of motion.
Small, hairline fractures can occur over time with overuse of the feet and ankles in sports like running or any activities where the feet must absorb excessive shock and sustain sudden movements. First aid is similar to that of sprains, but make sure to consult with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis to determine the best treatment plan for your particular injury.
When To Call 911, Go To a Hospital or Call Your Doctor
If the joint appears out of position or you think you may have a broken bone, call 911 or go to a hospital quickly. Some urgent care facilities can treat broken bones and sprains, but if there are any open wounds, it may be best to go to a hospital. A popping sound followed by immediate problems using the joint, severe pain or serious injury needs urgent care right away. It is time to call your doctor if:
- Pain lingers after several weeks.
- Swelling does not go away within a couple of days.
- You experience signs of infection such as a fever above 100 degrees.
- You have warm, red or painful skin.
As the name implies, toenails can grow inward and downward, becoming embedded into the skin instead of straight across and forward across the nail bed. You can prevent ingrown toenails by clipping the nails, especially of the big toe and the one next to it straight across and not too close to the nail bed. Ibuprofen or aspirin may help ease the pain until you can see your doctor.
Once embedded, you will need to see your doctor to have it corrected. This condition requires medical attention to minimize risk of further injury and infection. The pain may not be sudden until it becomes so embedded that it hits a nerve, but once it does, it is quite painful and worsens. Never try to remove an ingrown toenail yourself.
Sharp, pinching pain at a joint may be tendinitis. In the toe, for example, it may strike as you enter into a step and begin to bend the toes forward while walking or releasing a bowling ball. Buddy taping is a great way to manage this foot pain. Place a small, thick clump of cotton ball between the toe that hurts and the largest one beside it. Wrap the two toes together firmly with first aid tape. Change daily. Switch to shoes that do not pitch your foot forward, placing pressure on the toes. Do not wear high or low heels with a forward pitch.
Tendinitis can be so painful you cannot walk, so buddy taping before you put on your shoes will help prevent that sharp pain while you enjoy participating in your favorite sport or walking activities.
The plantar fascia creates the arch of the foot. It is the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bones to the toes. When this protective tissue is overstretched or overused, and becomes inflamed or swollen, it is called plantar fascitis. Contrary to old beliefs, it is not caused by heel spurs.
Dull or sharp heel pain, stiffness or achy, burning sensations on the bottom of the foot may be plantar fascitis. Staying off the feet, taking pain relievers, and physical therapy may be needed in more serious cases. A therapist can teach you exercises you can do at home to ease the pain and help prevent it from recurring. Mild cases can be treated at home with ice, two or more times a day especially the first several days. Shoe inserts or a quality heel can help a great deal, and night splints will stretch the injured fascia to help it heal.
Check out our detailed section on solving sudden Plantar Fascitis pain.
When To Call or Not To Call a Doctor for Sudden Foot Pain
Sometimes sudden foot pain results from an immediate injury or overuse. Other times it seems to saunter in, building in intensity and duration over time. You could have an injury or other medical condition and not know it since some individuals do not show any symptoms. Symptoms may not appear for days, months, or even years following an injury.
Anytime your feet hurt without ceasing to have pain, have repeated or persistent swelling, discoloration or broken skin of the feet, have open cuts that won't heal, then it is important to consult with a medical professional right away to get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment plan to ease your specific type of sudden foot pain.