3 Common Foot Conditions & How to Avoid Them

A woman rubs her heel after taking off her running shoes due to heel pain

If you think about it, your feet are pretty amazing – they spend a lifetime taking you where you want to go, from your first steps as a baby through marathons, triathlons, and strolls in the park.

In fact, per the American Podiatric Medical Association, the average American will log 75,000 miles on their feet by age 50!

Occasionally, you may experience pain in your feet.

Foot pain can range from mildly inconvenient to debilitating, and should be addressed before it prevents you from living your life.

Here are three common causes of foot pain and what you can do to make sure they don’t slow you down.

Bunions

A bunion is a lump or bump of bone that protrudes from the inside of the foot at the base of the big toe.

This common, painful condition involves the metatarsophalangeal joint (also known as the MTP joint) that connects the big toe to the metatarsal bone in the foot.

In most cases, bunions develop over time, as abnormal pressure on the MTP joint leads to the deforming of the joint, which in turn leads to the formation of the bunion.

The MTP joint of your big toe plays a vital role in carrying your body weight while standing and walking; as a result, bunions can make it extremely painful to walk, stand, or wear shoes.

It’s important to note that bunions are not a condition that can be ignored away.

If a bunion is left untreated, it can significantly worsen over time.

How can I avoid bunions?

Unfortunately, in some cases, bunions may be unavoidable due to the structure of a patient’s foot itself.

Patients with foot deformities, flat feet, low arches, or feet that developed in a faulty fashion can be predisposed to bunions due to the abnormal pressure their feet put on the MTP joints.

Foot injuries, tight-fitting shoes, or occupations/hobbies that put a great deal of stress on your feet for stretches of time can also lead to bunions.

One good way to avoid bunions is to avoid wearing excessively narrow shoes, as having your toes pushed together can make you more prone to bunions.

If you have flat feet, try to wear shoes that offer plenty of arch support; additionally, you may benefit from speaking to a podiatrist about custom orthotics.

Finally, while this doesn’t technically count as “avoiding” the condition, speak to a podiatrist at the first signs of a bunion; in many cases, early intervention or treatment can help stop the bunion from getting worse.

Heel Pain

Heel pain can occur at the bottom, front, or back of the heel, and can make walking or running extremely difficult.

Many people don’t realize that your heel is actually the biggest bone in your foot, and as such, it plays a key role in maintaining your walking/running gait.

There are also a number of different muscles and tendons around the heel, meaning heel pain can have a number of different causes.

Common causes of heel pain include:

  • Plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of tissue on the bottom of your foot that connects the heel to the ball of the foot.
  • Achilles tendinitis, which is inflammation of tissues that connects the muscles of the calf to the heel bone.
  • Heel spurs, which are bone-like growths that form at the bottom of the heel bone.


If you experience heel pain that doesn’t improve with rest or other remedies, it’s important to see a podiatrist to address the root cause of the pain.

How can I avoid heel pain?

Wearing the correct shoes for each activity you’re doing (e.g. running shoes for running, hiking shoes for hiking) can go a long way toward reducing your chances of heel pain.

These shoes are designed to be worn during these specific activities, meaning they have the supportive soles and stiff sides required to properly support your heel while jogging or on the trail.

Additionally, it’s important to discard older shoes that have worn-out or thinning soles.

Finally, make sure you don’t overdo any of your favorite forms of physical activity, and always listen to your body: sometimes, the best way to avoid heel pain is to give your feet a chance to rest and recover.

Bursitis

Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that can be found in a variety of different places throughout the human body.

Bursae are found around joints, where they act like little cushions between joints and muscles, tendons, and bone.

Because there are more than two dozen joints in the human foot, there are plenty of bursae in each foot as well.

Bursitis occurs when a bursa sac becomes inflamed or swollen, causing pain. In the foot, bursitis is most often found near the previously mentioned MTP joints and on the heel near the Achilles tendon.

However, it’s worth noting that bursitis can, in theory, develop wherever a bursa sac is present.

In most cases, a bursa sac will become inflamed or irritated due to either pressure or repetitive motion.

For example, a baseball pitcher can develop bursitis in the shoulder due to the frequent repetition of the throwing motion.

How can I avoid bursitis?

The easiest way to avoid pressure-induced bursitis is to avoid wearing tight shoes or high heels, both of which can put excessive pressure on the bursa and lead to inflammation.

You should also take care to not tie your shoes too tightly.

For repetitive motion bursitis, it’s obviously not realistic to say “just stop doing that repetitive motion,” especially for runners or other athletes.

Instead, focus on properly stretching and getting loose before your physical activity. Ensure that your shoes fit properly as well.

Additionally, make sure you give your feet (and the rest of your body) time to recover with regular rest after extended physical activity.


The human foot is complex, and if you’re experiencing foot pain, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist.

A podiatrist can help identify the root cause of your foot pain and prescribe the appropriate solution — which can range from ice and rest to medication or surgical intervention.

 

Thomas Baer, DPM is a podiatrist at South Shore Health.

Christopher Locke, DPMThomas Lyons, DPM, and Tyler Silverman, DPM also contributed to this post.

Learn more about Podiatry Services.