Pain on top of foot: potential causes and treatments

Your feet are made up of many moving parts: bones, tendons, nerves, muscles, and more. If something goes wrong with just one of these tiny parts, your entire life can be thrown out of whack. Foot pain makes the most basic of tasks more difficult or even impossible. While any part of your foot can become painful for any number of reasons, this article focuses on pain on top of foot. This is also called the Lisfrank area. We’ll discuss some of the common pain on top of foot causes as well as potential treatments.

Why does pain on top of foot occur?

There are many reasons why the top of your foot might be bothering you because it contains so many different working parts. The information below isn’t intended to take the place of professional medical advice. Only a doctor can diagnose you with a medical condition.

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That being said, not knowing the cause of your pain can be stressful and scary. Hopefully, this article can take a little bit of the mystery out of your top of foot pain by providing you with a place to start your research.

Some potential pain on top of foot causes include:


Tendons are cords that connect your bones to your muscles and allow the human body to move in all the ways that it does. The most famous is the Achilles tendon, or the Achilles heel, which runs down the back of your leg. However, you have tendons all over your body.

Tendonitis occurs when a specific set of tendons becomes inflamed, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. In particular, tendonitis on top of foot is called extensor tendonitis. While this condition can be caused by a traumatic injury, a more common cause is repetitive movements.


Gout is a subset of a condition that many people in the United States and around the world know all too well: arthritis. It can have a variety of causes, including injury, obesity, or even certain medicines.

Gout is characterized by swelling and intense pain, usually in the big toe, although other areas of the foot and body can be affected. One of its most distinguishing features is the fact that its symptoms regularly subside, allowing the sufferer to resume a normal lifestyle until the next flare-up.


There are many ways you can injure your foot, from dropping something on it to moving it the wrong way to simple overuse. Sometimes you might injure yourself and not realize it until later when symptoms begin to manifest. Other times, such as when you have a sprain, a fracture, or a broken bone, you’ll notice right away.

If the injury isn’t serious, your foot will likely heal on its own. But if your pain is severe and doesn’t resolve, or if you can feel that a bone is no longer where it should be, see a doctor right away.

In some cases, a ganglion cyst may form after a foot injury. This is a fluid-filled lump just under the skin. If it gets too close to a nerve, you may feel a burning or tingling pain. This is another case when you should talk to your doctor.

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which your nerves, whose job it is to relay pain signals to your brain, have gone haywire.

For example, they might end up telling your brain that your foot is in pain, even when you haven’t done anything to hurt it lately. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include, but are not limited to, numbness and various kinds of pain (tingling, stabbing, and so forth.)

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Toe pain

Pain in other parts of your foot, such as the big toe, can also lead to pain on top of foot, since they are so close to each other. We have already discussed gout, which commonly affects the big toe.

If you believe your foot pain stems from a problem with your big toe, read through this article to learn more about big toe pain causes and solutions.

How to prevent pain on top of foot

If you’re looking to prevent foot pain, it’s important to take care of your feet. But what does that mean?

Try to avoid lots of repetitive movements, which can aggravate foot pain. If you begin to feel pain while you are exercising, stop what you’re doing as soon as you can and take a break.

In the case of gout, a crucial step towards preventing future outbreaks can be changing your diet. A big risk factor for gout is the presence of excessive uric acid in the system. Eating a lot of meat and seafood or drinking a lot of beer increases the body’s uric acid content.

Finally, your footwear can have a big impact on how your feet feel, for better or worse. If your foot pain is caused by metatarsalgia, the shoes and insoles on this list may help. Shoes and insoles designed to relieve other sources of foot pain are discussed later in this article.

How to treat pain on top of foot: 9 treatments

Not all of the following foot pain treatments will be effective for every cause, and not all treatments are safe for all patients.

This is why it’s so important to discuss your foot pain with your doctor before trying any treatment for top of foot pain. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will be able to determine which treatments have the best chance of helping you recover.

At-home treatments

The easiest pain on top of foot treatments are those you can try by yourself in the comfort of your own home. Heat and cold treatments, for instance, are a cheap and simple solution for foot pain. But although they are often lumped together, heat therapy and cold therapy are two distinct treatments. The Cleveland Clinic has put together a chart to help you determine which one will work best for what ails you.

Another at-home treatment is to simply rest. The more you strain an already painful foot, the longer it could take to heal. Try keeping the foot elevated, and don’t walk or stand any more than you have to until it starts to feel better.

Finally, you may have to make some changes to your lifestyle. For example, obesity often contributes to or worsens foot pain. If that’s the case for you, talk to your doctor about safe ways to transition to a healthier daily routine.

Stretches and exercises

Stretching and exercising are important both for your general health and for managing foot pain. If you already exercise regularly, great! Just make sure that your current exercise habits aren’t contributing to your foot pain. For example, swimming is a low-impact exercise that will put much less pressure on your feet than, say, playing tennis.

You may also wish to look into stretches and exercises specifically designed to strengthen the top of your foot. This list might be a good place to start.

Listen to your body as you work out, especially if you aren’t used to exercising. If you feel tired or your pain gets worse, stop immediately. With a little time and patience, you should be able to develop a stretching and exercise routine that works for you.


For many people, pain means reaching for pain medication. There’s no reason not to take the recommended dose of over-the-counter medicines if you find them helpful and if you aren’t taking other, contraindicated medicines. But if the pain persists for more than a few days, you should be examined by a doctor.

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In more serious cases, you might require prescription medications. If over-the-counter treatments aren’t putting a dent in your foot pain, your physician may be able to recommend something stronger.

Buy new shoes or orthopedics

As mentioned previously, proper footwear can make all the difference in preventing foot pain. But even if your feet are already painful, a good pair of shoes or insoles can still be invaluable. Select shoes that fit properly and provide good arch support. If your shoes are very worn out, don’t keep wearing them. Old shoes won’t provide the sort of support your feet need to stay healthy.

Additionally, if your foot pain is caused by extensor tendonitis, switching to lower heels can be beneficial. This is because excessive tightening of your calf muscle causes extensor tendonitis. The more time you spend in very high heels or stilettos, the more pressure you put on the top of your foot, and the more likely you are to develop extensor tendonitis.

If you can’t or don’t want to buy entirely new shoes, orthopedics may be a useful compromise. Orthopedic insoles can improve your old shoes so they support you better.


Nothing feels better than a good foot massage! That’s especially true when you’re suffering from foot pain.

Massages can release tension in your foot, thereby reducing pain. You can either visit a professional massage therapist, read up on self-massage techniques, or invest in a foot massager.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy pairs many different pain treatments—including heat/cold therapy, chiropractic, and stretches and exercises—with professional expertise and advice.

A physical therapist will assess your condition and create a customized treatment plan to give you the greatest chance of recovery.


Many people swear by this ancient Chinese treatment, and experts agree that it is safe so long as the acupuncturist is experienced and reputable.

Acupuncture involves inserting long, thin needles under the skin at particular points. If you’re not squeamish around needles and you have already exhausted other treatment options, acupuncture may be worth looking in to.


Chiropractic is not the best treatment option for everyone, so be sure to consult your physician before pursuing it.

If they give you the go-ahead, then you can expect your chiropractor to manipulate and adjust your trouble spots. Repeated visits may be necessary, depending on the severity and nature of your foot pain.

Foot pain injections and surgery

Finally, as a last resort, you may wish to consider injections or surgery.

Steroid injections can be helpful in some foot pain cases, including those caused by tendonitis. They work by reducing inflammation in the affected area, thereby reducing both pressure and pain. But while steroids alleviate symptoms in the short term, using them repeatedly over the long term can have serious consequences, so they’re best undertaken with other complementary treatments like physical therapy.

Surgery may also be necessary, depending on the severity of your pain and what’s causing it. Broken bones and ganglion cysts are among the conditions more likely to require surgical intervention.

These treatments are not to be used as the first line of defense against pain on top of foot. Most cases of foot pain will not require such drastic action. Talk with your doctor and try the other, less interventional treatments described in this article before considering injections or surgery for your foot pain.

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