Why Does the Top of My Foot Hurt When I Walk?

Reviewed on 8/10/2022
Woman grabbing her foot in pain
Possible causes of pain on the top of the foot include sprain, strain, stress fracture, tendonitis, wearing shoes that are too tight, osteoarthritis, Lisfranc injury (also called Lisfranc fracture), nerve problems, and medical conditions (such as gout).

Pain on the top of the foot can range from minor to debilitating. Within the foot there are muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, all of which can be injured or not function properly, resulting in pain on the top of the foot. 

There are many different causes of pain on the top of the foot, such as: 

  • Sprain 
    • Stretching or tearing of ligaments
  • Strain
    • Injury to tendon or muscle
  • Stress fracture
    • Small cracks in the bones due to overuse 
  • Tendonitis
    • Inflammation of the tendons 
    • Can be caused by overuse 
  • Wearing shoes that are too tight
    • Wearing tight shoes when you have high arches can cause pain
    • Tight shoes can also cause tendonitis 
  • Osteoarthritis 
    • Wear and tear over time of the cartilage that covers and protects the surface of the joints 
  • Lisfranc injury (also called Lisfranc fracture)
    • The Lisfranc joint is where the five long bones of the feet (metatarsals) connect with the tarsal bones toward the ankle
    • Occurs when the metatarsals are misplaced, fractured, or sprained when the foot is placed under excessive pressure or force
    • May be caused by dropping something heavy on the foot or landing hard on the feet after jumping from a height
    • May also be caused by twisting the foot at an angle that strains the midfoot
  • Nerve problems 
    • Can cause tingling, prickling, burning, and numbing sensations along with pain
    • Pain may be due to a problem further up the leg where nerves are compressed or damaged
  • Medical conditions

What Are Symptoms of Pain in the Top of the Foot?

Symptoms of pain in the top of the foot can vary depending on the cause and may include: 

  • Pain
    • May range from mild to moderate to severe
    • May be sudden or severe when anything touches the foot
    • May start near the bottom of the big toe
    • May worsen with activity
    • May be worse after resting
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness that lasts a long time
  • Grating or crackling sensation when moving the foot
  • A lump along a tendon
  • Red, hot, swollen skin
  • Abnormal toe curling
  • “Pins and needles” feeling or numbness

See a doctor for pain on the top of the foot and: 

  • Pain prevents you from taking part in normal activities
  • Pain worsens or keeps returning
  • Pain does not improve after home treatment for two weeks
  • Any tingling or loss of sensation in the foot
  • You have diabetes 
    • Diabetes affects nerves, blood vessels, and blood flow
    • People with diabetes should see a podiatrist regularly to manage diabetes-related foot problems

Go to a hospital’s emergency department for pain on the top of the foot and:

  • Pain is severe 
  • You cannot walk
  • You heard a snapping, grinding, or popping noise when an injury occurred
  • You feel faint, dizzy, or nauseated from the pain
  • The foot has changed shape or is at an odd angle

How Is Pain in the Top of the Foot Diagnosed?

The cause of pain in the top of the foot is diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination of the foot. 

Depending on the suspected cause, tests may include: 

What Is the Treatment for Pain in the Top of the Foot?

Treatment for pain in the top of the foot depends on the cause. 

For many types of foot pain, the RICE method can be used: 

  • Rest: keep weight off the affected foot
  • Ice: to decrease pain, swelling, and redness
    • If an injury is iced immediately, it may prevent some inflammation
    • Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel
    • Apply crushed ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times daily
  • Compression: to support the foot and prevent inflammation
    • Use elastic wraps such as Ace bandages
    • Do not wrap too tightly
  • Elevation: propped up the affected foot to help reduce fluid buildup in the injured tissue
    • Try to raise the foot above the level of the heart

Other home remedies for pain in the top of the foot include: 


  • Sports or other activities that may have caused the pain
  • Walking or standing for long periods
  • Wearing high heels or tight or pointy shoes

If pain on the top of the foot is more severe, treatment may include:

  • Crutches
  • Splint or cast if a bone is fractured
  • Physical therapy
  • Orthotics (prescription shoe inserts)
  • Acupuncture
  • Foot surgery (uncommon)
Reviewed on 8/10/2022

Image source: iStock Images