Lateral foot pain is pain down the side of the foot and ankle that comes on before, during or after physical activity. It can be debilitating. In some cases, people may find it difficult to move or even stand as a result of lateral foot pain; you may even lose some sensation in your feet.
Symptoms of lateral foot pain
You may be diagnosed as having lateral foot pain if you:
- are experiencing pain on the outer side of your ankle
- find it difficult to stand or walk
- are unstable on one or both of your feet
- are prone to spraining your ankle
- have swelling and tenderness in your foot.
So, what are the causes of lateral foot pain, and what can you do to prevent it?
Most cases of lateral foot pain occur as a result of some a foot condition that was left untreated and has deteriorated over time. These might include:
- Sprained ankles – this is a ligament injury rather than a fracture and is one of the most common causes of lateral foot pain.
- Stress fractures – small cracks and breaks in the bones of the foot that can occur as a result of repetitive exercise. If left untreated, these fractures can worsen.
- Peroneal tendonitis – the peroneal tendons extend from the back of the calf to the edge of the foot. Excessive running or ankle sprains can cause tendonitis, which is swelling and inflammation of the tendon.
- Cuboid syndrome – the partial dislocation of one of the bones on the side of the foot. It can result from over exercising or wearing shoes that are too tight.
- Bunions – a bone defect that causes the big toe to point inwards causing the foot to become misshapen and putting strain on the outside of the foot.
- Other possible causes include arthritis, calluses and corns, foot defects from birth, inflammation of the joints and tendons, and damaged nerves.
If the pain does not subside after resting, you will need to see a doctor who will check for obvious signs of injury, swelling and deformity of the foot. You may be sent for an MRI scan or X-ray.
In the case of mild lateral foot pain, the best treatment is the so-called RICE method:
- Rest the foot
- Ice to reduce swelling. For periods of 10-20 minutes at a time. Do not apply ice directly onto the skin but instead wrap it in a tea towel.
- Compress the foot with an elastic bandage.
- Elevate the foot so it is higher than your heart.
You may also want to take painkillers and anti-inflammatories, which you can buy over the counter.
If the pain is more severe or there is injury to the soft tissue, you may need anti-inflammatory medication or steroids prescribed by a specialist doctor. You may also need physical therapy to improve the blood flow and help the foot to heal.
While the foot is healing, your doctor may suggest wearing a support to protect your ankle. If the bone itself is injured, you may need to keep it immobilised. Surgery is rarely needed for lateral foot pain although you may be offered laser or light therapy.
Do not be tempted to “soldier on” if you are experiencing pain in your feet, even if it seems mild. Rest your foot following the RICE method. If the pain persists, visit your doctor.
If you regularly walk, jog, run or cycle, wear shoes with foot arch supports to protect your feet.