You’ve been doing all you can for your aching foot: applying ice packs, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, resting it, keeping it elevated. It may feel better for a little while, but the pain always returns. If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with chronic foot pain.
What Is Chronic Foot Pain?
How do you know the difference between chronic foot pain and temporary foot pain? Simple — by the length of time you feel discomfort. If the foot is only sore for a week or two and then gradually feels better, this is not a case of chronic foot pain. However, if the pain persists for weeks, months or years without any signs of stopping, chronic foot pain is much more likely.
What Causes Chronic Foot Pain?
There are a variety of medical conditions that can cause chronic foot pain. Several are discussed at Healthline:
- Buerger’s Disease — This condition “causes blockages in the blood vessels of your feet and hands,” and is particularly prevalent in males of Middle Eastern or Asian descent who make heavy use of tobacco products.
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Bursitis — With this condition, the joint sacs that keep the bones separated from tissues, muscles and joints become swollen. This can lead to chronic joint pain.
- Sciatica — Although sciatica mostly affects spinal nerves, those with this condition sometimes experience pain in the legs and feet.
- Fractures, strains, sprains and breaks
- Achilles tendonitis
- Ingrown toenails
- Plantar fasciitis
By visiting a podiatrist in Chicago, you can get a clear diagnosis and create a treatment plan from there. Most treatment plans for chronic foot pain include one or more of these five options.
Orthotics are braces, supports, padding and specialized footwear for sufferers of chronic foot pain and other foot and ankle conditions.
Podiatrist Donald Pelto at FootVitals notes “improper footwear or ill-fitting footwear” can contribute to chronic pain.
“Athletic shoes lose the elastic properties of the soles through usage and age. A good rule of thumb is to replace your shoes every six months or more often if there is heavier usage. The use of replacement insoles can increase energy absorption and add support to the foot,” says Dr. Philip Radovic at MedicineNet.
Orthotics may be a temporary or permanent treatment for chronic foot pain. These can also correct flat feet, which can be quite painful. The arch of the foot can be improved for more comfortable walking and everyday activity, Pelto says.
Over-the-counter drugs can only work so well. One advantage to seeing a podiatrist for chronic foot pain is they can prescribe stronger medication. The Arthritis Foundation shares which medications it deems most effective for arthritis, which drugs can also alleviate chronic foot pain caused by other conditions. Talk with your podiatrist about:
- Biologic response modifiers — If experiencing swelling from bursitis or rheumatoid arthritis, a biologic response modifier may be the best treatment. “Each [type of medication] blocks a step in the inflammation process without suppressing the entire immune system.”
- Gout drugs — These too can potentially reduce symptoms associated with bursitis and rheumatoid arthritis since these medications “reduce levels of uric acid in the blood to prevent future attacks of joint pain and inflammation. Others are designed to relieve the pain and inflammation of an acute attack,” says The Arthritis Foundation.
- Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — Prescribed to reduce arthritic pain, DMARDs are useful for those with psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Analgesics — This medication “may be used to relieve pain from foot problems and surgery.” Analgesics can be used as an alternative to NSAIDs.
- Corticosteroids — Another treatment option for swollen and sore joints, corticosteroids can be administered via a shot or in pill form depending on the location of the pain.
- NSAIDs — NSAIDs are common painkillers. A podiatrist may have to prescribe these, although some are available without a prescription.
3. Lifestyle Changes
During your appointment, your podiatrist will ask questions about your medical history and your lifestyle. This allows him to pinpoint whether these factors are influencing the chronic pain. If so, the podiatrist will likely recommend several lifestyle changes. These should be put into effect immediately.
Donald Pelto with FootVitals suggests the following steps:
- take supplements and multivitamins
- soak in hot water when pain strikes
- lose weight
- stretch before physical activity
- get regular massages
He also advises foot pain sufferers to stop wearing heels or other uncomfortable shoes.
How do you rearrange your workout when living with chronic pain? “Substitute activities that aggravate the pain and soreness,” says MedicineNet’s Dr. Radovic. “Running causes the body to have repetitive impact with the ground. Bicycling and/or using elliptical trainers, step machines, swimming, or ski machines minimize impact and allow you to maintain and improve your fitness.”
4. Physical Therapy
Although you may not want to exercise or even move much when dealing with chronic foot pain, you may find that physical therapy can often be beneficial. Your podiatrist will decide if this is a suitable means of treatment. What should you expect during your sessions?
“You may be given exercises to increase the strength and stability of the affected area and to correct muscles that are not balanced,” says Radovic. “Exercises to increase flexibility will maintain or improve the length of a muscle. Flexibility helps to make a stronger muscle that’s less likely to be injured.”
You will have to check in with your podiatrist regularly during the first few months of your treatment. If something isn’t working for you, be sure to bring it up. The podiatrist can adjust a prescription dosage. The physical therapist can suggest different exercises. Do expect some soreness at the beginning of physical therapy though.
However, if the above treatments just aren’t working and the pain is still debilitating, surgery may be the only option.
The type of surgery you receive will depend on what’s causing your foot pain. Conditions like bunions and hammertoes can typically be reversed if caught early enough. Some surgeries may be outpatient procedures while others may be more intensive. The only way to know is by contacting a podiatrist today.