When your feet hurt, you may be able to power through it until you can take a seat and kick up your feet. But other times, foot pain can literally stop you in your tracks.
Whether you suffer from a foot condition like plantar fasciitis or just wore the wrong shoes today, there are many forms of foot pain treatment that can also help reduce or prevent pain in the future.
Read on to learn more about tried-and-true sore feet remedies, and when seeing a podiatrist – a doctor who specializes in foot and ankle conditions – might be a good option.
Home remedies for foot pain
At-home treatments can go a long way when it comes to relieving foot pain. Whether you’ve twisted your ankle or been working long days, the following are great ways to relieve some pain and give your feet a break.
Take an anti-inflammatory medication
How can you reduce inflammation in the feet? Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and reduce swelling, providing relief for a few hours at a time and making them an excellent foot inflammation treatment.
NSAIDs are available over the counter, and chances are you’ve taken one before for things like a headache. But it’s a good idea to chat with your doctor before you start taking any medication regularly.
Apply heat, cold or both to your feet
Usually, cold therapy using ice is recommended for acute injuries like a sprained ankle, or if you’re experiencing swelling. Heat therapy, on the other hand, can be better for chronic foot pain, as it can help soothe stiff joints and relax muscles. However, depending on your pain or foot condition, a combination of both may be helpful.
Use the RICE method for acute injuries
If you have a new sprain, strain or bruise, or you’re experiencing any swelling, the RICE method – which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation – is a tried-and-true practice:
- Rest – Give your injured foot or ankle some time off. Further activity can prevent proper healing and may make the condition worse.
- Ice – Start icing an injury as soon as possible to help soothe pain and reduce swelling. During the first 48 hours, ice your injury a few times throughout the day for 15-20 minutes at a time.
- Compression – Wrapping your foot or ankle snugly with a bandage can help with swelling and blood flow, which can speed up the healing process. Just be sure not to wrap it too tight. You don’t want to cut off blood circulation in your foot.
- Elevation – Elevate your foot and ankle above your heart to get gravity on your side and help bring down swelling. This can also help speed up the healing process and relieve swelling-related pain.
Use Epsom salt to soothe and relax sore feet
If you’re experiencing general soreness or arthritic pain in your feet, you may wonder if soaking your feet really helps with foot pain. The answer is: Yes.
A warm bath on its own can have immediate relaxation benefits. But studies show the addition of magnesium sulfate – or Epsom salt – in warm water may enhance those therapeutic effects.
Epsom salt is a mineral-rich compound that can be absorbed through the skin when mixed with water. Those minerals can work to relax and soothe sore muscles, joint pain and arthritis. It can also exfoliate skin, leaving it softer after a good soak.
Alternate hot and cold therapy to maximize pain relief
Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation-related pain by restricting blood vessels. Heat does the opposite, increasing blood circulation to relieve muscle cramping, stiffness or soreness.
So if you have a condition that causes both inflammation and muscle soreness, just using ice or heat for your foot pain might not be enough. But alternating hot and cold therapies, which is called contrast therapy, can help you maximize pain relief and healing.
That’s because alternating cold and hot means your blood vessels also alternate between bigger and smaller. The changes in blood movement can help reduce inflammation and swelling, while also improving range of motion.
Foot and ankle conditions that can often benefit from contrast therapy include plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, arthritis and bunions.
Contrast baths – where you alternate submerging your feet in cold water (for around 2 minutes) and warm water (for around 30 secs) – can be one method to try.
Stretch and massage your feet and legs
Tight muscles and uneven pressure distribution can often be a cause of foot pain. So, keeping your feet, ankles and legs relaxed and flexible is a great way to relieve pain.
Make a habit of stretching and massaging your calves, ankles and toes, especially before and after activity, and you may see them start to work together much more harmoniously. To stretch these areas, hold them at each end of their range of motion for at least 30 seconds, and repeat as needed. Learn more about stretches and exercises for foot pain.
Look at switching out your shoes
Any time we’re wearing shoes, they’re keeping our feet in a relatively fixed position. So, it’s important to make sure that the position is a healthy one.
Worn-out, cramped or unsupportive shoes can cause pain by rubbing or putting uneven pressure on our toes, arches or heels. Wearing shoes that are the right size and length, and have wide enough toe boxes, a bit of cushion and solid arch support help keep your feet happy. You can also get devices and inserts like orthotics and cushioned insoles that help supplement these key features.
Regular activity is just as important as rest. Staying active is the best way to strengthen and condition our feet, while inactivity can cause our muscles to shrink and weaken.
Of course, you may need to limit or modify activities that can cause your pain to flare up. For example, rather than running on hard outdoor surfaces like concrete, you swap in lower-impact activities like swimming or “go for a run” on an elliptical exercise machine. The important thing is to keep moving.
How to treat foot pain with the help of a specialist
Everyone’s feet hurt from time to time, whether it’s because of a sprained ankle, a long day on our feet or an extra-long hike we took.
But if you have certain foot conditions, pain can flare up on a regular basis. And sometimes home remedies just aren’t enough to relieve and manage pain, or help heal the issue.
So, if you have a foot condition and home remedies don’t seem to be doing the trick anymore, a podiatrist may be able to offer additional recommendations and treatments.
Over-the-counter foot pain relief or prescription medications
If you have a condition that causes swelling and inflammation like arthritis, a podiatrist can give you specific recommendations on an NSAID or pain relief cream to try. But they may also be able to prescribe medication to treat and manage your symptoms.
For example, if you have an infection from an ingrown toenail or foot ulcer, your podiatrist may prescribe antibiotics. Or if you have gout, a podiatrist can prescribe fast-acting medications to treat an active flare-up (gout attack).
Minor in-clinic procedures
When pain or discomfort is being caused by something like an ingrown toenail or wart, and at-home efforts aren’t helping, a podiatrist can often perform basic procedures during an office visit.
For example, if you have an ingrown toenail, a podiatrist can often make a small incision and remove the impacted portion of the nail.
Custom orthotic inserts are a big step up from the kind you might find at your local drug store. Orthotics are meant to provide additional cushioning and arch support, and more effectively distribute your weight when you walk.
But custom orthotics from a podiatrist are made from molds of your feet, making them a tailored solution for foot and ankle pain. For example, if you suffer from heel pain due to fallen arches, plantar fasciitis or heel spurs, orthotics can provide support and cushion to give you some relief.
Physical therapy can help reduce pain in the muscles, tendons and ligaments of your feet – which can be an effective treatment for strain-related conditions like Achilles tendinitis.
Cortisone is a steroid, and just one injection can help reduce inflammation for several months. When your pain won’t seem to go away, a cortisone injection can be one of the best treatments for plantar fasciitis and other conditions such as heel spurs and arthritis.
The cortisone is most effective when injected in or as close as possible to the pain source, so injection points can be joints, tendons, muscles or bursas.
Surgery for structural issues in your feet
If your foot pain is the result of foot deformities like bunions, hammertoes or tarsal coalition, or if another condition like osteoarthritis or plantar fasciitis has become more severe, surgery may be an option.
Usually, surgery is an option when more conservative treatments can’t provide enough relief and the pain is disrupting your daily life. Depending on your condition, surgery often aims to restore more normal foot motion, usually by removing, repairing or correcting the cause of the pain such as a bone growth or ligament issue.
Get back on your feet
While home remedies can help relieve pain as acute injuries heal or manage chronic pain caused by specific foot conditions, sometimes they may not be enough to get you the relief you need to live your normal life.
If you’ve noticed an increase in pain, a decrease in the effectiveness of at-home treatments or you’re finding it hard to do normal daily activities, make an appointment with a podiatrist.
Don’t take one more painful step than you have to. Get the care you need.
Tired of foot pain? Then it’s time to see a foot and ankle specialist.