Lateral foot pain (outside foot pain) can literally stop a person in their tracks. There are a lot of causes of outside foot pain. Whether you are a runner or simply like to get out and about, lateral foot pain is something that can be frustrating and very difficult to ignore.
Foot pain can occur on the inside of the foot, which is called medial foot pain, or on the outside, which is lateral foot pain. The outside of the foot is a common location for pain. It is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and connective tissue. Various tissue types can be pain generators in the lateral foot area. The pain outside of the foot can be mild or severe. It can also appear gradually or come on suddenly in the form of a stabbing pain.
When you think about it, we put a lot of pressure on our feet with every step we take. If you participate in weight-bearing activities, you can only imagine the strain it adds to the foot. If you can recognize the source of the pain and other symptoms, you’ll be able to pick a more suitable treatment.
Common causes of outside foot pain
There are a number of common causes for pain on the outside of the foot. The following list covers most of the causes:
1. Tarsal coalition
This is a congenital problem that comes with symptoms of pain, fatigue, flat feet, and improper walking. It is not as common a cause of pain along the outside of the foot as some of the other indicators listed.
2. Inversion or ankle sprain
An ankle sprain is one of the major causes of lateral foot pain. Studies show that about 85 percent of ankle injuries lead to lateral foot pain. In addition to being painful, an ankle sprain can lead to foot instability.
3. Cuboid syndrome
The cuboid is one of seven tarsal bones located on the outside of the foot. If there is too much traction over the cuboid, the tarsal bone can dislocate, leading to cuboid syndrome. Pain is present especially when the sufferer is participating in weight bearing acts.
4. Peroneal tendonitis
This is a condition on the outside of the foot and around the heel that is caused by repetitive tension on the peroneal tendon. Excessive running, abnormal positioning of the foot, and ankle sprains can lead to peroneal tendonitis. Inflammation and degeneration are some of the symptoms associated with peroneal tendonitis.
When the big toe rotates inwards and points toward the other toes, it can cause the bone at the base to stick out at the side. Inflammation, swelling, and redness are signs of a bunion. Sometimes bunions can develop around the little toe. They are referred to as bunionettes. Many bunions are blamed on poor footwear, but gout and rheumatoid arthritis increase a person’s risk of getting bunions.
6. Corns or calluses
Foot pain outside can be due to the growth of corns and calluses. They are the result of repetitive stress to the skin on the foot. The skin reacts by growing extra layers of skin in an attempt to protect the foot.
7. Stress fractures
Sometimes, physical activities or repetitive actions can cause small fractures on foot bones. Lateral foot pain from stress fractures happens if the fracture has occurred in the calcaneus or navicular bones. While symptoms may start out mild, they usually get worse.
Diagnosing outside foot pain
Both a physical examination and a review of symptoms can help determine the cause of foot pain. A physical exam includes checking the foot while it is at rest, when it is moving, and when it experiences weight-bearing pressure. It is important if you are experiencing lateral foot pain to let the doctor know if you have sharp pain on the outside of the foot, pain on the outside of foot when walking, lateral pain with weight-bearing activities, or with certain movements. Part of the diagnosis also depends on any previous pain or injuries, such as fractures of the foot.
In many cases, an x-ray or MRI will help give doctors a clearer picture of what is happening with the foot. An accurate diagnosis is crucial in leading you to proper treatment. General treatments may solve the problem for the short-term, but the pain is likely to come back.
Treating outside foot pain
Treatment for lateral foot pain will depend on whether the symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. For mild pain, people can gain relief with R.I.C.E. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The idea is to try to ease the pain and inflammation as well as reduce the chances of further injury. Many people find that it is effective in speeding up the healing process.
Here’s a look at some other treatments for lateral foot pain:
- Medications: Some over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, aspirin, and ibuprofen can help lessen the pain and inflammation.
- Assistive devices: There are devices — such as crutches, walkers, and canes — that can take pressure off the foot and give it time to heal. For some individuals, a device is all they need to get pain relief.
- Band-Aids: In cases where blisters, corns, or calluses form, a simple band-aid might help relieve pressure and pain.
- Exercises: Sometimes, muscle-strengthening exercises will be recommended by a doctor. In other cases, stretching will be effective in reducing lateral foot pain. There are even cases where barefoot running can improve the pain level, but any exercises should be done in consultation with a doctor.
- Proper shoes: If shoes are causing the outside foot pain, making sure you have proper shoes and good foot support may solve the problem. Orthotics are an option. In fact, some people use orthotics while running and cycling. Shoes that are too narrow or too tight cause foot problems. You should have shoes with a wide toe-box that is cushioned, have flat soles, and that provide strong support.
- Tubigrip: This is an elasticated bandage that provides some compression to the foot, ankle, and calf. It supports the foot and helps reduce swelling. They are often used in the short-term right after an injury.
- Acupuncture: One method that has been effective for some foot pain patients is acupuncture. It involves the insertion of very small needles into the tissue around the foot in this case, to block pain signals from the brain. Acupuncture is a technique that should be carried out by a trained, licensed professional.
- Foot products: There are some foot products on the market, like toe-stretchers that are designed to correct abnormal toe positions.
- Footbath: Using Epsom salts in a tub of warm water has been known to relieve some foot pain. Adding essential oils, such as peppermint oil or lavender oil, may also help ease some of the discomforts.
There are other treatment options, including massage therapy and light therapy, but it is important to have a discussion with a physician before starting treatment.
Exercises to relieve outside foot pain
If you are experiencing lateral foot pain and exercise has been suggested by your doctor, you should follow-up, do the exercises, and see how symptoms will subside. For instance, flexibility exercises can help improve muscle strength. Here are a few specific exercises known to help:
- Static ankle strengthening: With this type of exercise, the ankle remains static. Basically, stretch by extending the muscle to the end of its range of motion and holding it at this position is considered a static exercise. It is a good way to start exercising after an injury because it can minimize the risk of further damage.
- Resistance exercises: These are exercises that give the foot something to push against in order to help build-up strength around the foot and ankle. Therabands, which are big elastic bands, are often suggested.
- Dynamic exercises: Simple activities, including picking up marbles with your toes, can increase the strength of the foot.
- Calf strengthening: Weakness in the calf muscles can impact the foot, so doing some calf strengthening exercises can be helpful.
Exercises for lateral foot pain should not cause you further pain or injury. If you are struggling with a specific exercise that you have been prescribed, then stop and discuss it with your doctor. You may need a minor adjustment to your technique or a complete change in your exercise routine.
Untreated lateral foot pain can lead to impaired function, deformity, and chronic inflammation, which could then put you in a position where you require surgery. It doesn’t have to come to this if you get a proper diagnosis and follow treatment instructions.