5 Causes Of Foot Pain From Running: Why Do My Feet Hurt When I Run?

Your feet play a starring role in your running. They withstand force up to three times your body weight with each step and trigger the propulsion that moves you forward. It’s no wonder runners often suffer from foot pain from running. 

Your feet are also very complex featuring 26 bones and an intricate network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia. Indeed, it can be difficult to determine the answer to the burning question: why do my feet hurt when I run?

This article aims to help you answer that question by sharing: 

  • the five common causes of foot pain from running
  • 8 tips to prevent foot pain from running in the first place!

So, let’s go!

A woman on the road holding her foot because of foot pain from running.

5 Common Causes of Foot Pain From Running

Let’s take a look at the most common causes of foot pain from running and how to stop foot pain while running.

#1: Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is probably the most common cause of foot pain from running. Your plantar fascia is a web-like tissue that stretches across the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toe. 

Pain from plantar fasciitis is most commonly felt in the heel or in the arch of the foot where the heel graduates into the arch. The pain can be a sharp stabbing pain and/or a dull ache. 

If your plantar fascia becomes too tight, it can become inflamed, strained, or even torn. 

If you suspect you have plantar fasciitis, it is best to take care of it right away as it can become inflamed quickly and is hard to get rid of. 

Related: Plantar Fasciitis: How to Treat it to Minimize Downtime

Here’s how to treat plantar fasciitis:

A person holding their foot. The arch and ball of the foot are in red to show pain.
  1. Stretch and roll your calf. Stretch your calves 3 times for 20 seconds 3 times a day by dropping your heel off a step. Do not do this if this hurts! Also, foam roll your calf.
  2. Stretch your plantar fascia. While sitting on the ground, loop a belt or band around the ball of your foot. Pull towards you and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat 3 times 3 times a day. Also, get a golf ball or lacrosse ball. Place it under your foot and roll it around the arch area. A massage gun to the area for about 2 minutes can also ease tension and increase circulation.
  3. Ice and heat. Do an ice foot bath followed by a warm foot bath to increase circulation and help decrease inflammation. You can also roll your foot on a ball while in an Epsom salt bath.
  4. Take a break from running. If running causes pain to your big toe during or after, then take a break and find a cross-training activity you like instead. 
  5. Consider injections. A cortisone shot may help bring the inflammation down. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) injections drawn from your own blood into the injured area can help healing, as can surgery.  

#2: Stress Fractures

There are 26 bones in your foot, and these bones are under a lot of stress when you’re running! If you have acute, localized pain, there is a good chance one of these bones could have a stress fracture. 

These tiny cracks or severe bruising are a common overuse injury in runners—typically in the metatarsal bones (the middle bones of your foot). They can also be in the heel, ankle, or top of the foot (navicular). 

A person holding their foot. The top of the foot is in red to show pain.

Related: 5 Possible Causes of Top of Foot Pain From Running

Here’s how to treat a stress fracture:

  1. See a doctor. If you suspect you have a stress fracture, it is important to see a doctor and get imaging to diagnose the problem. 
  2. Practice RICE. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevate. These are steps you will likely take to help spur healing. 
  3. Focus on nutrition. Eating a well-balanced diet of healthy, whole foods including meat, dairy, and leafy greens will also help bone remodeling. 
  4. Wear a medical boot. During this time off, you will probably have to wear a boot and find a cross-training activity that does not aggravate your foot such as swimming or cycling. You will likely need to take about 4 to 8 weeks off running. 

#3: Hallux Rigidus 

Your big toe plays a starring role in your running. The joint of your big toe, where the metatarsophalangeal, or MTP, connects to the metatarsal bone in the forefoot to the phalanx, the bottom bone of the big toe, is where a lot of the propulsion comes from in your stride

As you run, your big toe joint bends to allow your foot to roll forward and “toe-off” off the ground. With your MTP literally bearing the weight of your running, it is prone to becoming stiff. And that’s exactly what “hallux rigidus” means—stiff big toe. Hallux rigidus can also be called turf toe or simply stiff big toe. 

This stiffness can be caused by osteoarthritis or inflammation in the joint from overuse. You can also sprain or stub this joint. 

If you have big toe pain, it’s likely it will get worse and you’ll have less mobility in the joint over time. 

This means you need to treat it.

A person stretching their foot.

Here’s how to treat Hallux Rigidus:

  1. Wear proper shoes. Wear shoes that provide support for your feet. Running shoes are probably your best choice. This will limit further stress on the MTP joint.
  2. Stretch the toe joint. Pull your big toe towards you and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat by pulling it down and then side to side. Repeat two to four times three times a day. This improves mobility (which will also help your running!)
  3. Ice and heat. Do an ice foot bath followed by a warm foot bath to increase circulation to help decrease inflammation. 
  4. Take a break from running. If running causes pain to your big toe during or after, then take a break and find a cross-training activity you like instead. 
  5. Take anti-inflammatories. Regular use of anti-inflammatories and a cortisone shot may help calm the inflammation down. If you have a cortisone shot, you will definitely need to take a break from running as it can weaken the tissue.

#4: Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding your metatarsals, or the five long bones in your foot. 

It is a common overuse injury that feels like a stabbing, burning, or aching feeling under the toes or pain in the ball of your foot. You may also have numbness or tingling in your toes. It will also hurt when you flex your foot.

A person holding their foot. The ball of the foot is in red to show pain.

Metatarsalgia is an injury you want to take care of right away.

Here’s how to treat Metatarsalgia:

  1. Practice RICE. Rest, ice, compression, and elevate. You can do a contrast bath of ice and heat to get the inflammation down and take anti-inflammatories to ease the pain.
  2. Cross-train. You shouldn’t run with metatarsalgia and you likely won’t want to. Find another exercise that doesn’t aggravate your foot. 
  3. Wear supportive shoes. Consider wearing your running shoes, Oofos sandals, or even a boot to reduce the impact on the irritated area. Metatarsal pads and custom orthotics may ease the pain.
  4. Call your doctor. If your foot is not better after ten days of at-home treatment, see a doctor. 

Related: 10 Foot Strengthening Exercises for Runners

#5: Fat pad syndrome

Your feet are lined with a fat pad that cushions your heel and absorbs the shock of running. This fat pad can become irritated from overuse, running on hard surfaces, or wearing improper shoes. 

A person massaging a foot.

Here’s how to treat fat pad syndrome:

  1. Contrast baths. Soak your hurting foot in ice water for 10 minutes and then switch to warm water. Do this throughout the day. 
  2. Wear cushioned shoes. Oofos or your running shoes may provide proper support as could the addition of a heel cup. 
  3. Tape your heel. Taping your heel with kinesiology tape will promote blood flow to help get rid of inflammation. 
  4. Massage. You can massage your own foot manually, with a massage gun, or book a massage and have them focus on your foot. 
  5. See a podiatrist. If your foot doesn’t feel better after 10 days of at-home treatment, see a doctor and get an official diagnosis. 

Tips to Prevent Foot Pain From Running

What is the best way to prevent foot pain from occurring in the first place?

Foot pain from running can be tricky to get rid of because we are always on our feet. The good news is there are steps to prevent foot pain from running in the first place!

Related: The 10% Rule: Is It a Valid Way to Increase Mileage?

Here are 8 tips to stop foot pain from running: 

A person cycling.

#1: Wear Proper Running Shoes

Make sure you are wearing the right shoes for your running gait. Get new shoes once you’ve reached the mileage cap. Most shoes last about 200 miles. 

#2: Alternate Running Shoes

Wearing two types of properly fitting running shoes can help negate biomechanical patterns that lead to overuse injuries. Variety is the spice of life and it can be the key to injury prevention and avoiding foot pain from running. 

#3: Consider Orthotics

Custom orthotics can help correct biomechanical issues that can lead to running injuries. See a physical therapist or podiatrist to get orthotics that correct issues in your biomechanics. 

#4: Run On Soft Surfaces

If you have the option to run on grass, gravel, dirt, or asphalt, do it! Avoid hard surfaces like concrete or cement. 

#5: Do Toe Yoga

Toe yoga, where you lift your big toe independently of your little toes, and alternate, can help keep the foot healthy and strong. Perform this exercise 60 times on each foot at least once per day. 

A person tying their blue running shoe.

#6: Gradually Increase Volume

Most overuse injuries, including those that cause foot pain from running, occur due to too much too soon for your body. Adhere to the 10 percent rule of increasing volume week over week and take rest days.

#7: Get Your Gait Checked

Have a physical therapist check your running. Running injuries are also caused by running form issues. Also, have them check your feet to ensure no issues are budding.

#8: See A Specialist

Don’t wait to see a doctor or your physical therapist when you begin having foot pain from running. It’s better to act fast because foot pain can take a long time to heal and a specialist can best guide your specific situation on how to stop foot pain when running.

We’d love to help you with your training goals whether for the 5k, an ultramarathon, or simply staying healthy. Check out the Marathon Handbook resources. 

A person receiving a doctor's appointment.
Whitney Heins
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the 2024 US Olympic Trials marathon.

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