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Foot pain identifier – How to diagnose foot pain

Foot pain is a common complaint, affecting people of different ages and occupations. Given the fact that it can be caused by a wide range of factors and underlying conditions, a treatment plan cannot be recommended without a correct diagnosis. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss about foot pain and how can this be properly diagnosed. Keep in mind that foot pain is only a symptom and it cannot go away, unless the underlying condition is successfully treated. Moreover, it is possible that the foot pain is a result of a chronic condition; this means that the symptom might not go away but rather be reduced in intensity and/or frequency.

Foot pain, a common cause of disability in older women

According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, foot pain is more common in women who are obese or in those who suffer from osteoarthritis. Age is also a factor to be taken into consideration, with foot pain being considered a common cause of disability in older women. For the identification of foot pain, the authors of the study resorted to functional tasks, involving self-care abilities, mobility and tolerance to exercise. Participants to the study were also asked to answer questions regarding the intensity and frequency of the pain (a scale was used to assess the severity of the pain).

The physical performance, with regard to the main symptom experienced (foot pain), was assessed through a number of tests. The authors of the study assessed the number of steps taken in a determined period of time and the speed, the chair stand time and the standing balance. Individuals were assessed to determine whether they could stand unassisted or not. The activities of daily living were assessed as well – participants had to mention whether they had difficulties, due to the foot pain, with bathing, dressing or going to the toilet.

Study confirms the fact that foot pain is often accompanied by achiness/stiffness (unilateral/bilateral involvement)

Foot pain is one of the most often encountered symptoms in the general population, being accompanied by additional complaints (such as achiness or stiffness). The involvement can be unilateral or bilateral, as it has been confirmed by a study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.

The identification of the foot pain was made with the help of the following:

  • Assessment of balance and gait
  • At-home interview for activities of daily living (self-care, level of independence)
  • Self-completed questionnaire – physical activity level; impact of foot pain and underlying condition(s) on the overall quality of life
  • Anamnesis – height and weight, waist and hip circumference, blood analysis, co-existing conditions (diabetes, osteoporosis, heart diseases etc.)
  • Presence of pain at the level of the main joints (knee, hip, back)
  • Chart identification of foot pain + presence of additional symptoms (stiffness, achiness).

Foot pain poses a higher risk for falling in the older population

The correct diagnosis of foot pain is necessary in order to be able to follow an adequate treatment plan but also to prevent complications and/or consequences of this progressive symptomatology. As it has been shown in a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, foot pain poses a higher risk for falling in the older population.

In the case of this study, the diagnosis of the foot pain and the underlying condition(s) was made with the help of the Manchester Foot Pain and Disability Index. This was used to determine the severity and frequency of the foot pain, as well as the dynamic plantar pressure. It has been determined that the high plantar pressure, which is generated through walking, might increase the risk for foot pain and, thus, for falling.

General guidelines for the diagnosis of foot pain

As you have seen, there are several elements, measures and tools used for the diagnosis of foot pain.

These are the general guidelines to remember and use whenever necessary:

  • Patient anamnesis – may include medical history, previous problems, accidents that might have triggered the foot pain, underlying conditions etc.
  • Imaging investigations – X-rays, MRI/CAT scans can be used to visualize the affected joints and determine the actual cause of the joint pain.
  • Physical examination – function tests, balance and gait analysis, range of motion, weight bearing, walking difficulties, presence of additional symptoms (stiffness, achiness, inflammation).
  • Activities of daily living – influence of foot pain over self-care and independence (going to the toilet, bathing, dressing, and eating).

Underlying causes of foot pain

According to a study published online, on UpToDate, foot pain is one of the main factors that affect the overall functionality of older adults. The authors of the study draw attention to the fact that the examination of the foot should be included in the routine evaluation of older patients. The examination should concentrate on the three different parts of the foot, meaning the anterior, middle and posterior sections. The foot should be assessed physically and with the help of imaging investigations.

There are also risk factors to be taken into consideration, with regard to foot pain. Among the most common risk factors, there are: old age, high BMI, obesity, increased physical activity (wear & tear of the joints), occupation (for example, those who are in the military present a higher risk of foot pain).

The study managed to identify some of the most common causes that lead to foot pain. These include but are not limited to: toenail disorders, minor toe deformities, corns & calluses, bunions; fungal infections, minor cuts; flat feet; diabetes, arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. The treatment differs from one condition to the other; however, a foot massage can improve many of the symptoms experienced.

Final word

As you have seen, when it comes to foot pain, the physical examination is essential. It is also important to discuss with the patient and perform an in-depth anamnesis, followed by imaging investigations. If you are looking to determine the underlying condition that has led to foot pain by yourself, use this article and check the symptoms presented. And, remember, the sooner you start the treatment, the better you are going to feel.


Amanda Roberts is a professional blogger and a podiatry student. She is an enthusiast who loves to write on several niches, particularly in foot health, including plantar fasciitis, toenail fungus, foot massage and reflexology. Read more about her blog posts on foot health at Feet Remedies. You can follow her on Facebook.