Perhaps you’ve twisted your ankle, worn high heels or other uncomfortable shoes, or pushed too hard during exercise. Your foot may be a bit swollen and sore for a few days as a result. That’s often easily treatable at home.
However, what if the pain has exceeded a few days? What if icing it and elevating it isn’t really helping? In that case, you may want to call a foot specialist.
Also known as a podiatrist, these trained doctors are experts in foot and ankle pain. With their diagnostic tools, they can accurately pinpoint what’s causing the pain. The sooner you schedule your visit, the sooner you can get some relief.
Not sure if you should go to a doctor or if you can take care of it yourself? Before seeing a foot specialist Chicago residents should check out these eight foot pain signals. If you’re experiencing one or more of these, book the appointment.
1. Bleeding Heels
In the winter, when there’s typically less moisture in the air, dry skin is normal. Your feet may be affected, too. Lotion typically treats this problem.
If it doesn’t, Jeffery LaMour at Family Foot & Ankle Clinic in Austin, Texas recommends getting professional medical treatment. “Over time, your heels may begin to bleed or become more susceptible to infection,” he explains. “If you have diabetes, it’s especially important that you see your doctor to remedy the problem.”
2. Chronic Foot Pain
At the first signs of sore feet, rest immediately, ice the area, elevate it and maybe take some over-the-counter pain relievers. In a few days to a week (sometimes two), the foot should feel better. If it doesn’t and you experience soreness that persists for months, you should definitely see a podiatrist.
Amelia Laing at iTriage in Denver writes about various medical conditions that may be causing this uncomfortable, lasting foot pain:
- Plantar warts — Warts can develop anywhere on the body, including the feet.
- Hammertoes — When the bones and joints in the toes are misshapen, hammertoes occur. These can typically only be reversed by surgery if they are severe.
- Flat feet — Depending on the natural arch of the foot, sore feet may be a chronic issue because “flat feet are less capable of absorbing shock, which leads to foot pain.”
- Morton’s neuroma — Patients with Morton’s neuroma, a type of tumor, have reported feeling pins and needles on top of the pain.
- Plantar fasciitis — The plantar fascia is located at the back of the foot near the Achilles tendon. Various factors can exacerbate the impact on this tissue, leading to the development of plantar fasciitis. This can often be treated with orthotics and medication. Surgery is only needed in rare cases.
3. Ingrown Toenails
A toenail that has grown in incorrectly can lead to infections and lots of discomfort. While it seems like a cosmetic issue, it can be a medical issue, as well.
Clipping your toenails isn’t always adequate when attempting to remove the nail. “It’s better to seek professional help to make sure the condition is treated properly without damaging either your toenail or the surrounding tissue,” LaMour at Family Foot & Ankle Clinic cautions.
Calluses and corns may appear in tandem on the feet. Calluses are rough patches of dead skin that may slough off on their own or may have to be peeled off. Corns have a kernel-like appearance, manifesting as small yet sizeable lumps of dead skin.
Liang at iTriage says these can easily go from a slight annoyance to one that leads to the development of friction and foot pressure, both of which can be uncomfortable. In most instances, surgery isn’t required to remove a callus or corn. Instead, salicylic acid is used. A podiatrist also is likely to advise you to get better shoes with more support.
Foot & Ankle Specialists in Franklin, Ohio, say to look for these signs of infection:
- The color or the temperature of the foot or the toenail changes
- If you experience swelling, redness, drainage or an increase in body temperature
Your toes can get infected with onychomycosis, a type of fungus. “Sometimes fungus can grow underneath nail surfaces,” iTriage’s Amelia Laing explains. “…onychomycosis…causes the nail to grow darker and smell bad. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other toes, and cause pain that can interfere with daily routines.”
Patients with diabetes need to be especially diligent in their foot care, or they could develop diabetic ulcers. According to Laing, 15 percent of diabetes patients will have these ulcers at one point in their lives. Foot removal is sometimes the only treatment unless these ulcers are caught early enough.
One of the most common foot infections is athlete’s foot. Despite the name, anyone can come down with this fungal infection. Laing notes “the fungus tends to grow in humid, dark and warm environments and can cause dry skin, itching, inflammation and blisters.” Although there are plenty of over-the-counter remedies for athlete’s foot, patients who are experiencing this for the first time should check in with a podiatrist to get a prescription treatment sure to ward off the fungus.
Just like an ingrown toenail or a corn, bunions don’t always look serious on the surface. Patients with bunions may notice their toes aren’t positioned properly, especially the big toe. This is caused by misshapen joints, somewhat like hammertoes. Bunions can make wearing shoes can be difficult, walking painful and doing physical activity nearly impossible.
Bunions do not get better on their own. In fact, the joints will continue to deform. Once diagnosed, a podiatrist will recommend orthotics, better shoes and possibly medication to treat the bunion. A bunionectomy may be necessary.
If your feet swell, you may not think to worry about it. You may just apply ice, kick your shoes off, and wait for the swelling to reduce. However, LaMour at Family Foot & Ankle Clinic says “you shouldn’t just grin and bear it” if swelling happens frequently.
He says swelling can be caused by the following:
- Nerve damage — If you have diabetes and your feet are swelling regularly, visit a podiatrist immediately. This could be indicative of a more serious problem, like diabetic nerve pain.
- Broken bones
- Tendonitis — A medical condition caused by repetitive motion. Jonathan Cluett at Verywell says rest, physical therapy and medication can soothe the pain associated with mild cases of tendonitis.
8. Numbness or Lack of Feeling
If feet are losing feeling throughout the day, that could indicate a more serious problem. When experienced in conjunction with swollen feet, any of the conditions above could be to blame. To narrow down what’s causing the pain, don’t wait to see a podiatrist.