The feet have to constantly bear impact, whether we are standing, walking or running. Even for less active people, the feet are prone to a host of problems. Some may be acute symptoms that last for a few minutes to hours and may be a result of physical strain. Others may be persistent conditions that can be a sign of serious disorders and diseases that do not always involve the feet despite the presence of foot symptoms.
The feet may seem relatively unremarkable. It has no organs with complex functions. Instead there are bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, nerves and skin. However, the feet are able to withstand significant physical strain while bearing the entire body weight and allows us to move efficiently within just two legs.
Causes of Foot Symptoms
Like any part of the body, the feet are prone to a host of problems. It is important to differentiate between diseases and foot symptoms. Some of the more common feet symptoms and the possible causes have been discussed below.
However, there are many other foot symptoms like tingling or numbness, loss of sensation, foot weakness or paralysis, cramping and spasms as well as clubbing of the toes and clawing of the foot that are some of the other symptoms that should be considered.
Aches and Pains
Aching or painful feet are common problems. Most of the time it is a result of strain – standing for too long, walking or running long distances and related activities. The resulting strain on the structures of the feet causes aching, sorness or even pain. There may also be swelling and redness. It usually resolves quickly with rest and simple measures like cold therapy.
Sometimes the feet may be strained even without excessive activity. This may occur with poorly fitting footwear. There are a host of other causes of foot soreness or pain. This includes:
- Achille’s tendinitis
- Bone spurs
- Diabetic or peripheral neuropathy
- Fractures, including stress fractures
- Ingrown toenails
- Mallet toe
- Morton’s neuroma
- Plantar fasciitis
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
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Burning feet is another common foot problem. It may occur for many of the same reasons as sorness and pain of the feet. A burning sensation may preced the onset of pain or even accompany the pain, in which case it is often referred to as burning pain. The sensation of burning can occur with inflammation and therefore present with other symptoms like swelling and redness.
However, burning feet that is persistent is more likely to be due to nerve damage or disease. This is known as peripheral neuropathy and can occur for various reasons. Diabetes is one common cause of peripheral nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy), certain vitamin B deficiencies, toxin exposure, alcoholism and HIV infection.
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Itching is another common symptom that affects the feet. The many causes of itchy feet are not significantly different from itching elsewhere on the body. This itching may or may not be related to various skin diseases. Sometimes itching of the feet can also arise with some of the same causes of aching and painful feet.
Athlete’s foot is one of the more common causes of itchy feet. This is also known as tinea pedis and is a fungal infection of the skin of the feet. It can also extend to the toenails. Contact dermatitis is another relatively common cause. There may be many possible causes of contact dermatitis of the feet but it is often related to excessive sweating and irritation caused by footwear.
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Swelling of the feet can occur with pain as both are features of inflammation. When it arises after prolonged standing or walking then it is usually a temporary problem if there is no underlying medical condition. This acute swelling is usually not excessive and resolves within hours of resting the feet. However, swelling of the feet can be a sign of various other diseases, some of which is serious.
Persistent swelling is usually a sign of weak veins in the legs. The leg veins have valves which help blood to flow back slowly towards the heart. When these veins are weak then blood can pool in the feet thereby causing swelling. Two common conditions of foot swelling involving the leg veins are varicose veins (superficial veins) and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
However, swelling of the feet can also be a sign of heart failure, kidney failure and liver failure. It may also be a sign of malnutrition and can occur with hypothyroidism or obesity.
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Pale to Blue Color
The feet can turn pale in color in people who are anemic especially with cold exposure. In severe cold, the possibility of cold-related injury has to be considered as a possible cause. Sometimes a lack of sun exposure can also be a factor in light skinned individuals. However, feet that suddenly turns pale to white and with a tinge of blue can be more serious.
Firstly, Raynaud phenomenon is where the blood vessels of the feet suddenly narrow (constrict). This reduces blood flow and if severe, the stagnant blood can become dexygenated. Another possible cause of pale to blue feet is shock. There are many different types of shock but in all cases the circulation of blood and oxygen are compromised. Shock is a medical emergency and can lead to death.
Like any part of the body, there many causes of sores that occur on the feet. It can arise with an injury or infection but the feet are more prone to certain types of sores. Blood flow through the lower leg and feet becomes more sluggish with age and in people who are not very active. This sluggish circulation also affects the body’s defences against injury and infection.
Diabetes and vein problems are two common causes of foot wounds that do not heal easily. These opens sores are known as diabetic ulcers and venous ulcers, respectively. It can become infected and lead to serious complications. Some skin diseases can also lead to sores on the feet. Blisters, bunions, corns and calluses are sometimes also referred to as sores but the reasons that these lesions arise are different.