First Time User? Enroll now.
As the COVID-19 situation has evolved, our visitor policy is evolving as well. Get full details.
For the most current information, please visit our Coronavirus resource pages.
Home > Health Library > Toe, Foot, and Ankle Problems, Noninjury
Everyone has had a minor problem with a toe, foot, or ankle. Most of the time our body movements don't cause problems. But sometimes symptoms develop from everyday wear and tear or overuse. Toe, foot, or ankle problems can also occur from injuries or the natural process of aging.
Your toes, feet, or ankles may burn, sting, or hurt. They may feel tired, sore, stiff, numb, tingly, hot, or cold. You may have had a "charley horse" (muscle cramp) in your foot while lying in bed at night. Your feet or ankles may change color or swell. You may have noticed an embarrassing odor from your feet. Some changes in your feet and ankles are normal as you age. Age-related changes include your foot spreading and your nails getting thick and brittle. Some changes are common during pregnancy. For example, your ankles and feet may swell. Home treatment is usually all that's needed to relieve your symptoms.
Toe, foot, or ankle problems may be caused by an injury. But there are many noninjury causes of toe, foot, or ankle problems.
Most skin problems that affect your feet are more annoying than they are serious. If you have:
Toe joints are more likely to have problems than other joints in your feet.
You may have pain in the front (ball) of your foot (metatarsalgia) or in your heel. Heel problems often occur when you overuse calf muscles, wear shoes with high heels, or do activities, such as running, that cause repeated pounding on your heels.
Many conditions may affect the nerves of the foot and cause numbness, tingling, and burning.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Pain in children 3 years and older
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and this change does not go away.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Pain in adults and older children
Symptoms of infection may include:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Try the following tips to help relieve toe, foot, or ankle pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Remove rings, anklets, and any other jewelry that goes around your leg, ankle, or toe. It will be hard to remove the jewelry after swelling starts.
It's important to rest and protect the affected area.
Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs right away to prevent or reduce swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
Compression, or wrapping the area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help reduce swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, because that can cause more swelling below the affected area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, and swelling in the area below the bandage.
Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. Prop up the area on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down.
For 48 hours, avoid things that might increase swelling. These things include hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, and drinks that contain alcohol.
After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat. You can start gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and keep flexibility. Some experts advise switching between heat and cold treatments.
Try using a donut-shaped moleskin pad. Leave the area over the blister open. Home treatment for blisters depends on whether the blister is small or large and whether it has broken open.
Gently massage your feet to reduce discomfort, relax your feet, and promote circulation.
Try heel-cord exercises to increase your strength and flexibility, if your heel or heel cord (Achilles tendon) is tight and painful. Try a calf stretch, towel curl, or towel stretch. These may help relieve your heel pain.
If you need to use a wrap for more than 48 hours, you may have a more serious injury that needs to be checked by a doctor.
Try the following tips to help reduce swelling in your ankles and feet.
Put them on a footstool or pillow (above the level of your heart) when you sit for any length of time.
Get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour if you sit for any length of time.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
October 6, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: October 6, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.