Pain on the side of foot

Lateral foot pain is pain that runs along the outer side of the foot and ankle. It can occur before, during, or after activities such as walking and running. Lateral foot pain can make it difficult for people to move around or even stand.
Lateral foot pain can cause a variety of symptoms, most of which depend on which part of the foot is affected.

The most common symptoms include:

  • pain on the outer side of the ankle
  • instability of the foot
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • difficulty walking
  • susceptibility to ankle sprains
  • difficulty in standing on the foot

What are the causes?

Lateral foot pain can have many causes. Most of them arise from conditions that were left untreated. These could include:

  • ankle joint inflammation and scar tissue
  • arthritis
  • the presence of very fine cracks in the foot bones and in the ankle
  • tendon inflammation
  • stretched, torn, or pinched nerves (especially those passing through the ankle)

The following conditions lead to lateral foot pain:

Ankle sprain

An ankle sprain is a ligament injury in the foot, without dislocation or a fracture. This is one of the main causes of lateral foot pain, with 85 percent of ankle sprains leading to lateral foot pain.

Cuboid syndrome

Cuboid syndrome is a partial dislocation of one of the lateral foot bones known as the cuboid bone. This injury may occur due to excessive tension or too much weight on the bone.

This syndrome usually occurs when a person does too much sport and physical activity without allowing any recovery time between exercise sessions. Sometimes, wearing tight shoes can also cause cuboid syndrome.

Cuboid syndrome is an uncommon cause of lateral foot pain that frequently goes undiagnosed. It can cause long-term symptoms, such as pain, weakness, and tenderness.

Bunions

Person pointing out bunion on side of foot outside in front of grass.
Bunions may cause lateral foot pain.
Bunions are a bone defect that makes the big toe of the foot rotate inwards and point to the other toes. As a consequence, people put most of their body weight on the lateral side of the foot when walking or standing, which causes pain.

Bunions may be caused by genetic factors or poor footwear that squashes the toes. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the bunion and realign the toes.

Peroneal tendonitis

Peroneal tendonitis occurs as a result of repetitive tension of the peroneal tendons. These two tendons extend from the back of the calf, over the outer edge of the outer ankle and attach at different points on the lateral side of the foot.

This condition causes the peroneal tendons to swell or become inflamed, resulting in pain on the lateral side of the foot and the heel.

A person who runs excessively or places their foot abnormally may develop peroneal tendonitis. It may also occur after an ankle sprain.

Stress fractures

Stress fractures are small breaks in one of the outer foot bones (called metatarsals), due to repetitive sports and physical exercise. Symptoms of this injury may be mild initially but gradually worsen.

Calluses and corns

Corns and calluses develop on the lateral side of the foot. They often develop as a result of the body producing multiple skin layers to protect the foot from repetitive stress and friction. Although calluses are usually painless, corns can penetrate deeper into the skin and be painful.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a disease that causes lateral foot pain when it affects the foot joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis.

Tarsal coalition

Tarsal coalition is a congenital condition, meaning that it is present at birth. Tarsal coalition occurs when the tarsal bones near the back of the foot do not connect properly. This unusual connection between the two bones often leads to stiffness and pain in the foot.

Tarsal coalition is a rare condition. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, about 1 in every 100 people have the condition.

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