What causes pain across the top of the foot?

Our feet carry us everywhere. We use them to walk, run, dance, stand, and jump—so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we might experience pain across the top of the foot. When our feet start to feel achy and everyday activities become painful, they can be signs that we need specialized care. You can try home remedies to ease the pain and discomfort, but you might seek help from a podiatrist if the pain is chronic or severe.

Common causes of pain across the top of the foot

There are many reasons why you might experience pain across the top of your foot. However, overuse—from everyday activities such as walking or running—is the most common cause. Here are some conditions that can develop from overuse:

  • Extensor tendonitis: The extensor tendons are on the top of the foot and are used for flexing and pulling the foot upwards. Extensor tendonitis can be treated with rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, steroid injections, physical therapy, or exercises.
  • Fractures: Hairline or stress fractures can develop from long periods of running or high-impact activities.
  • Midfoot injuries: Midfoot injuries are often a result of an accident, such as dropping a heavy object on your foot. If a midfoot bone breaks or a tendon is inflamed or torn, it can cause pain, swelling, bruising, or redness.

There are other causes of foot pain across the top of the foot as well:

  • Bone spurs are painful calcium deposits that can develop almost anywhere on the foot. They result from a change in pressure or arthritis near a joint.
  • Diabetic neuropathy can cause burning pain across the top of the foot.
  • Arthritis is a condition that causes pain, swelling, and inflammation in the joints. The foot is home to many joints, making it a common area for arthritis.
  • Gout is a form of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joint. Symptoms include sudden, intense pain in the joint at the base of the big toe.
  • Ganglion cyst. The cause of a ganglion cyst is not always known. Ganglion cysts often form across the top of the foot, appearing as a bump or sac filled with fluid. They may develop after an injury to the area. A ganglion cyst can cause tingling or burning if it’s near a nerve and discomfort or pain when the top of the foot rubs against a shoe.
  • Sinus tarsi syndrome. Although rare, this condition affects the channel between the heel and the ankle bone. It causes pain across the top of the foot and outside the ankle.

How is pain on top of the foot diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing chronic foot pain across the top of your foot, you may want to see a podiatrist, especially if the pain is so severe that you can’t walk. During a scheduled appointment, your doctor will examine your foot, paying close attention to signs and symptoms that indicate a foot issue. At this time, they may apply pressure to the affected area or ask you to walk or perform foot exercises to test the range of motion of your foot. The doctor may also ask you about any recent injuries or activities that led to your foot pain.

After an evaluation, your doctor may request blood tests, an MRI, or an X-ray, depending on the condition they’re trying to identify. For example, a blood test can identify gout, an MRI can detect nerve damage, and an X-ray can spot a fracture or bone spurs.

At-home treatment options for pain across the top of your foot

You may want to try some home remedies before seeing a podiatrist if your foot pain isn’t causing severe discomfort. Some popular at-home methods to treat foot pain include resting or staying off of your feet, applying ice to the affected area, stretching the surrounding muscles gently, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs) to reduce symptoms. You might also consider these options:

  • Wearing properly fitted shoes
  • Getting a cast or walking boot to support injuries like broken bones, or a brace.
  • Starting physical therapy
  • Wearing orthotics

To prevent further injury and support quick recovery, we recommended that you speak with a physician.

Schedule an appointment

If you’re experiencing mild to severe pain across the top of your foot, consider booking an appointment online with Arizona Foot Doctors. With our vast experience in podiatry, Arizona Foot Doctors is a practice you can trust. Our podiatrists are dedicated to gentle, conservative care, and we treat people of all ages experiencing foot ailments.