When to See a Doctor for Foot Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
senior woman on bed holding foot

If you regularly experience sore, tired, aching or swollen feet, it may be time to see a doctor. Foot pain may be caused by a variety of factors from arthritis to poorly fitting shoes to plantar fasciitis. Sometimes foot pain can indicate an underlying medical condition like diabetes that needs to be addressed.

Everyone might experience sore feet from time to time, but if foot pain causes you to miss work or social events, you might find fast relief by visiting a podiatrist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

Signs you should see a doctor for foot pain

When to seek immediate care

You should seek immediate medical attention for foot pain if you also have:

  • diabetes
  • experienced recent trauma to the foot, such as injuring it during sports
  • fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • inability to put any weight on the foot
  • one or more wounds on the foot
  • pain in both feet at the same time
  • swelling, redness and heat in the foot
  • visible deformity of the foot

When to seek routine care

For chronic foot pain that comes and goes, you should seek treatment if you experience the following symptoms:

  • pain that persists for more than few weeks
  • swelling that remains for more than a week
  • numbness in the foot for any length of time

These signs and symptoms of foot pain could indicate an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

Foot pain treatment at home

You should not try home remedies for foot pain if you injured your foot, if the foot is visibly deformed or grossly swollen, or if you have diabetes. Otherwise, you can try treating foot pain at home.

A few strategies that might relieve your aching feet include:

  • Foot massage. You can do this with your hands or, for the bottom of your foot, roll your foot across a foam roller or firm bottle. A frozen bottle of water can also work well.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve)
  • RICE protocol: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. Lie down in bed or on the sofa, wrap your foot (not too tightly) in a compression bandage, raise it on some pillows and apply ice (20 minutes on the foot, then 20 minutes off, repeating as often as desired)
  • Soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salts for 20 to 30 minutes daily

Common causes of foot pain

If the nerves in your feet become irritated due to injury (such as a broken foot) or an inflammatory condition like arthritis, then you’ll experience foot pain that you might describe as stinging, burning or throbbing.

Some of the most common causes of foot pain include:

Less commonly, foot pain can be caused by a ruptured Achilles tendon, a bone tumor, or Paget’s disease. It’s always a good idea to have chronic foot pain evaluated by a doctor to rule out any rare causes.

Who to see for foot pain

For the serious symptoms outlined above, you should go to an urgent care facility or the emergency room of your local hospital. Doctors there can evaluate your foot pain and treat it, if appropriate, or refer you to a specialist.

You can see a podiatrist for chronic foot pain that comes and goes or that you can tell is due to a condition like bunions. Podiatrists specialize in treating the feet and can provide an accurate diagnosis while offering you various treatment options. Some insurance companies may require a referral before making an appointment with a podiatrist. If this is the case, you can start by seeing your primary care provider to evaluate your foot pain and give you the necessary referral.

Foot pain may not strike most people as a potentially serious disorder, but it can negatively impact your quality of life and may even indicate an undiagnosed medical condition like diabetes that requires prompt treatment. It’s better to see a doctor early for persistent foot pain so you can move rapidly toward treatment and happier feet.

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  1. Foot Pain Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/foot-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050792
  2. Diabetes and Foot Problems. National Institute of Diabetic and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/foot-problems
  3. Hammer Toe. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/hammer-toe/
  4. Bunions. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/bunions/
  5. Plantar Fasciitis. PubMed Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024255/
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 11
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