Whether you are a runner or enjoy exploring the world on foot at a slower pace, lateral foot pain can stop you in your tracks. This type of pain frequently occurs with pain on the outside of the foot. It is usually the result of repeated impact on the area due to running, walking, jumping, and other high-impact activities. Lateral foot pain causes may also be linked to abnormal bumps on the foot and bone fractures.
The term lateral refers to the outside or outer portion of an object. Lateral foot pain can surface gradually over time, or appear suddenly with a stabbing pain. You may also feel tenderness, foot swelling, and have difficulty walking and standing.
We put a lot of physical pressure on our feet with each step. It is common to have lateral foot pain with weight bearing activities, including prolonged periods of standing. By recognizing the source of the pain and any possible accompanying symptoms, you can narrow down the cause of the affliction. It will allow you to determine the proper treatment to help you get back on your feet fast.
Lateral Foot Pain Causes
There are various internal and external factors that may cause recurring pain along the outer side of the foot.
You may not realize you have a corn until you experience lateral foot pain when walking. A corn can be a hard patch of dead skin cells or a patch of soft thin skin.
Corns have a bottom with a point and a raised wide top. This seed-shape allows the corn to become deeply embedded in the skin tissue. As the outer foot is one of the common places for corns, this may be the cause of your pain.
Also known as a hallux valgus, a bunion is a deformity of the bone. It causes pain on the outer foot as the joint of the big toe becomes inflamed. As a result, a red bump forms at the base of the joint on the surface of the skin, which causes the big toe to push against the next toe.
Wearing tight shoes or medical conditions such as arthritis and gout can cause bunions to form.
A leading factor of pain on the outside of the foot when walking involves the joint disorder known as arthritis. This condition comes in two different forms—rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Foot pain can have an association with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder. It causes the joint lining to become inflamed and swell, which leads to bone loss and joint abnormality.
4. Stress Fractures
Your morning jog or being physically active in sports can put you at a higher risk for stress fracture injuries that cause lateral foot pain. The pain of stress fractures can be mild in the beginning before it progressively gets worse.
These fractures commonly occur in the calcaneus or navicular bones. If a particular metatarsal bone becomes fractured from repetitive activity, it also can cause lateral foot pain.
Lateral foot pain can be the result of an ankle sprain, the most common cause of this form of pain. The pain may also be accompanied with unsteadiness while walking, as well as bruising and swelling of the affected area.
An inversion sprain occurs with damage to the anterior talofibular and calcaneofibular ligaments of the outer ankle. This damage ranges from a stretch to a complete tear of the ligaments and tissues.
A sprain is a common cause of many lateral foot pain running cases. This type of sprain results in pain and the inability to bear weight on the foot, accompanied by a popping sound. Any ankle sprain puts you at risk for future sprains and ankle issues, including recurring pain.
6. Peroneal Tendonitis
Peroneal tendonitis refers to the inflammation of the peroneal tendons that are along the outside of the ankle, behind the fibula bone. When these tendons are exposed to repetitive tension by movement of the connecting bones and muscles, you will experience discomfort and pain. This tension can be the result of recurring ankle sprains, unusual foot movements or positioning, or with long distance running.
The pain is usually gradual and progresses over the months. Severe pain is worse in the mornings and may dissipate with gentle movements.
7. Cuboid Syndrome
There are seven tarsal bones, and the cuboid is one of them that can cause pain on the outside of the foot. This syndrome occurs with a dislocation of the cuboid bone from overuse and traction of the leg muscle known as peroneus longus.
Cuboid syndrome is not a common cause of lateral foot pain, but it can occur due to the presence of an inversion sprain as a result of weight bearing activities or pronation (when the foot rolls inward).
Symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, skin redness, and a radiating pain on the outside of foot near the little toe.
8. Tarsal Coalition
A rare cause of lateral foot pain is a genetic disorder known as tarsal coalition. It usually occurs due to a birth defect where the tarsal bones do not properly develop. It can also be seen with arthritis, infections, and as a result of past trauma.
You may experience leg muscle spasms, ankle or foot stiffness, leg fatigue, or limping. And, the pain is sudden and sharp.
Lateral Foot Pain Diagnosis
Lateral foot pain is diagnosed through a physical examination by assessing the severity of pain and any accompanying symptoms. The doctor will look at your medical history for any possible past sprains or fractures.
The physical examination will include checking the foot while at rest and during both non-weight-bearing and weight-bearing activities. Further diagnostic testing may include x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Lateral Foot Pain Treatment
Lateral foot pain treatment is based on the cause and severity of the pain. Medical treatment may include light therapy, electric stimulation, and over-the-counter or prescribed medications to address the pain, inflammation, and other accompanying symptoms. But, in severe cases, surgery may be required.
Home remedies and natural treatments may be done in conjunction with a medical treatment plan or on their own. If you suffer from lateral foot pain, you should try the following treatments.
- Rest is one of the best remedies for most ailments, including lateral foot pain
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the outer foot for a 20-minute treatment to ease swelling and pain
- Use supporting devices such as crutches and canes when walking to alleviate pressure on the foot
- Wear a walking boot while your foot heals to prevent further damage
- Apply compression bandages around the foot
- Elevate the affected leg and foot
- Cover any corns or bunions with gauze or bandage
- Use Epsom salts in a basin or tub of warm water to relieve symptoms
- Add healing essential oils such as peppermint oil to a bath to alleviate pain almost instantly (you can also use peppermint tea with the bath water)
- Exercise daily to stretch out the ligaments and muscles to address the pain and discomfort
- Massage your feet to alleviate symptoms and promote proper blood circulation
- Avoid running and walking on uneven surfaces
- Perform strengthening exercises to improve muscle use
- Use flexibility exercises to target range of motion and movements of the affected tendons, ligaments, and muscles
- Perform yoga and chi techniques.
- Wear proper-fitting shoes at all times, especially when doing exercises
- Use orthotics or arch supports (if needed) while doing physical activities or sports to help transfer the weight from the outside of the foot
- Concentrate on any physical activity that does not require weight-bearing on the foot such as swimming and cycling
- Perform acupressure to target the soft tissues by applying pressure to pressure points on the body.
Lateral foot pain may appear gradually over time or may present as a sharp, stabbing pain. Depending on the cause and severity of the pain, there may be issues with walking, standing, and putting any weight on the affected foot.
Lateral foot pain may be caused by inherited disorders or by trauma or injury to the foot or leg. Severe pain along the outer region of the foot may require medical attention while mild symptoms may be treated with home remedies and by following proper foot care.
“Lateral Foot Pain or Pain on the Outer Side of the Foot!” ePain Assist, May 29, 2017; https://www.epainassist.com/joint-pain/foot-pain/lateral-foot-pain, last accessed August 7, 2017.
Hughes, M., “What Are The Causes Of Lateral Foot Pain?” Livestrong, September 17, 2011; http://www.livestrong.com/article/253981-what-are-the-causes-of-lateral-foot-pain/, last accessed August 7, 2017.
“Pain On Outside Of Foot,” Foot-Pain-Explored; http://www.foot-pain-explored.com/pain-on-outside-of-foot.html, last accessed August 7, 2017.