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    Sharp Pain on the Top of the Foot When Walking: What Causes It?

    Published 12 February 2020
    Fact Checked
    Olga Adereyko, MD
    Reviewed by Olga Adereyko, MD, Primary Care Physician, General Practitioner, Medical Consultant
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    The foot contains a complex network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Though it is quite strong and can bear the weight of your body, it is vulnerable to injury. Read Flo’s article to find out what might be causing a sharp pain on the top of your foot when walking.

    Pain on the top of the foot: causes

    Wearing too-tight shoes or doing excessive exercise can cause a sharp pain on the top of your foot when you walk. You can get a clearer idea of the cause of your pain by looking closely at your symptoms.

    • A stress fracture or sprained metatarsal can cause swelling, bruising, or pain that starts after repetitive or intense exercise.
    • Osteoarthritis or tendinitis can cause stiffness, swelling, and pain that lasts for a long time. There might be a lump next to a tendon, or you may feel crackling or grating while moving your foot.
    • Gout can cause red, swollen, hot skin; severe or sudden pain when you touch your foot; and pain starting from the base of your big toe.

    You could experience a sharp pain on the top of your foot as a result of overuse, injury, or inflammation of the tendons, ligaments, or bones in your foot. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes severe burning pain, tingling, and numbness in the foot. Some other causes of sharp foot pain include:

    • Diabetic neuropathy
    • Metatarsalgia
    • Osteomyelitis
    • Psoriatic arthritis
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Tumors

    Treatment and diagnosis

    A woman experiencing a sharp pain on the top of her foot

    Talk to your doctor if any of the following scenarios apply to you:

    • The pain is severe or stops you from performing normal activities.
    • The pain is recurrent or getting worse.
    • The pain doesn’t get better after treating it with home remedies for two weeks.
    • You’re experiencing numbness, loss of sensation, or tingling in your foot.
    • You have diabetes, as foot problems can become more severe with diabetes.

    You should visit an urgent care center if any of the following scenarios apply to you:

    • You have severe pain.
    • You feel dizzy, faint, or sick due to pain.
    • Your foot changes shape or lies at an unusual angle.
    • You heard a snap or popping or grinding noise with an injury.
    • You are unable to walk.

    These signs may indicate a broken bone after an injury to the foot.

    When you visit your doctor, they will ask you about other associated symptoms and possible reasons for your injury. They will also ask whether you have a history of ankle or foot injuries and the amount of physical activity you do.

    Your doctor will physically examine your foot. They may apply pressure on different areas of your foot to find out where you have pain. To evaluate the range of motion of your foot, they may ask you to do exercises such as rolling your foot and walking.

    Your doctor may order a foot X-ray if they suspect a bone spur or fracture.

    Some other tests that your doctor may recommend to find the cause of a sharp pain on the top of your foot include:

    • Blood tests to diagnose medical conditions including gout
    • An MRI exam to rule out an injury to the peroneal nerve

    Treatment for sharp pain on the top of your foot depends upon the cause of the problem. It may include the following:

    • Physical therapy to help treat medical conditions including extensor tendinitis, peripheral neuropathy, and peroneal nerve damage
    • A walking boot or cast for injuries including fractures or broken bones
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other anti-inflammatory medicine that may help reduce inflammation

    Tips to prevent pain on top of the foot

    It may not always be possible to prevent foot pain, but taking good care of your feet may help. Here are a few things you can try to prevent foot injuries and pain:

    • Foot injuries often result when you increase the duration and intensity of exercise too quickly. It’s a good idea to increase the difficulty and duration of exercise gradually to prevent pain and injuries.
    • Make sure to do a proper warm-up before and cool-down after an exercise session. Once your muscles are warm, gently stretch the muscles in your calves and feet.
    • If you do a lot of high-impact activities such as running, resting your joints and muscles by taking a day off in between runs can help prevent injuries. You can also alternate high-impact activities with low-impact activities including yoga, strength training, and swimming to prevent injury to the feet.
    • Wearing comfortable and supportive shoes, especially if you have arthritis or diabetes, can help prevent food pain. Good shoes that provide support and fit can help prevent pain from strains, sprains, and overuse. They can also help prevent slips and falls.
    • Treat the underlying problem that may be causing your foot pain.

    A final note

    Your feet have to support the weight of your body and move it every day. This makes them susceptible to injury and pain. Sharp pain on the top of your foot when you walk can occur for a wide variety of reasons, the most common being tight-fitting shoes and excessive exercise. Treating the pain on the top of your foot depends on the cause and may include physical therapy, NSAIDs, or a walking boot or cast. Taking good care of your feet can help prevent injury.

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