Feet are complicated. It’s amazing just how complex a structure your foot actually is. Not only does it contain 28 bones, it also has more than 30 joints. There are also more than 100 tendons, ligaments, and muscles.1 Unfortunately, that means a lot can go wrong with this part of your body, including foot joint pain.
If you are experiencing foot joint pain, here are some of the potential reasons why this might be happening.
1. Tarsal Coalition
In some instances, bones in the back area of your foot, known as the tarsal bones, form an abnormal connection. The connection, in many instances, involves both the bones and tendons in the foot. Tarsal coalition can lead to pain in feet, as well as a limited range of motion.
Tarsal coalition will usually occur during the development of a fetus, but there are other causes, including an injury, arthritis, or an infection. If someone is born with tarsal coalition, they might not start showing symptoms until they’re older, often between the ages of 8 and 16. There are, however, some cases where symptoms develop even later in life. These symptoms include foot pain, limping, and foot and ankle stiffness.2
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Also known as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating condition associated with not only foot joint pain, but several other symptoms as well. It affects the lining of your joints, known as the synovium. RA can lead to severe, permanent damage that profoundly impacts your quality of life.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes a thickening of the synovium, which then leads to the production of an excess amount of fluid. At the same time, your immune system reacts by releasing chemicals. The combination of the fluid and chemicals leads to swelling of your bones and cartilage. RA usually leads to pain in the front area of your foot, but it can affect other areas, as well. Common symptoms include stiffness of the joints, difficulty walking, and severe discomfort.3
One of the most common causes of foot joint pain, gout can be incredibly frustrating. The main reason it develops is an accumulation of uric acid crystals in the affected joint – usually the big toe. Uric acid is usually eliminated through urine. Sometimes, however, it will settle in a joint, and then crystallize. Why does gout occur? Some people produce too much uric acid; others have a hard time eliminating it properly. Genetics play a role in putting someone at a higher risk of developing gout, but there are other factors, too, including stress, high blood pressure, and obesity. Symptoms of gout include substantial swelling and redness, as well as sudden, intense foot pain.4
Another debilitating source of foot joint pain is osteoarthritis or OA. This condition often affects your foot and your ankle. It occurs when the cartilage in your foot breaks down and eventually disappears, resulting in bone rubbing against bone.
In severe instances, osteoarthritis makes it almost impossible to perform even the simplest everyday tasks. The main cause of OA is age. The wear and tear you put on your joints over time can cause cartilage to deteriorate. In some cases, an injury (like fracture or sprain) can be a contributing factor. The structure of your foot may also play a role. For example, if you have flat feet, that can put more of a strain on your joints, leading to the loss of cartilage.5
Capsulitis affects the ligaments that surround the base of your second toe. These ligaments form a capsule, and this capsule encloses the fluid that helps ensure that the toe joint works properly. If this condition is not addressed properly, it can weaken the ligaments to the point to where your toe becomes dislocated.
The main cause of capsulitis, researchers believe, is improper foot mechanics. People who tend to put too much pressure on the ball of the foot are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Another potential contributing factor is tight calf muscles. Symptoms of capsulitis include pain in the ball of your foot and swelling. People with capsulitis will often find it hard to wear shoes.6
A bunion is another common cause of foot joint pain. It appears as a large bump on the side of your big toe. The reason that bump develops is that the big toe is not pointing straight ahead as it should. Instead, it leans against the second toe. As a result, the bones become misaligned and the bunion develops where your big toe meets your foot – the metatarsophalangeal (or MTP) joint.7.
Symptoms of bunions include pain in feet, redness, burning and, in some cases, numbness. If you wear shoes that have a small toe box, that can make the condition worse.7
7. Tailor’s Bunion
This is a type of bunion, also referred to as a “bunionette,” that affects your little toe, rather than the big one. The reason it’s called a “tailor’s bunion” goes back centuries. Back then, tailors would typically sit cross-legged in order to do their work. This led to the outside portion of their feet rubbing along the ground. This constant rubbing led to the development of a bump on the little toe. Like bunions that affect the big toe, a tailor’s bunion can be made worse by wearing shoes that are too narrow. Symptoms include swelling, redness, and foot pain in the affected area.8
Joint, Bone, and Tendon Pain in Feet: Wrapping it Up
If you are experiencing muscle pain or any other problems involving the tendons, bones, or joints in your feet, see your doctor. If you don’t get a foot issue addressed quickly, you might wind up dealing with a more serious problem down the road. And, if a foot problem becomes serious enough, it can wind up robbing you of your quality of life. Take that possibility out of the equation by getting medical help as soon as possible.