1) Your Heels Are Too High.
Okay, this isn't so surprising, but let's just get it out of the way. Your fave stilettos can cause a host of issues, including stress fractures, bursitis, sprained ankles and neuroma (an inflammation of the nerves between your foot bones that feels like you're walking on a rock.) 'Anything over 2.5 inches can cause seven times the pressure on the ball of the foot,' explains podiatric surgeon Dr. Marlene Reid. Her guideline is to stick to 3-inch heels or lower for any activities other than special events—and wear thick heels instead of thin ones whenever possible.
2) You Love a Pointy Toe.
Sorry, but that leg-elongating style may be irritating a bunion. And while these hereditary joint protrusions naturally get worse over time, your tight-toed look isn't do them any favors, explains Dr. Carly Robbins, a podiatrist in Marysville, Ohio. But you can get bunions removed. 'It's best to have surgery early on rather than to wait because as the bunion worsens, the surgery becomes more invasive,' says Dr. Reid. 'Fortunately, if you have them removed and then wear proper footgear, they usually don't come back.'
3) You're Wearing The Wrong Shoes Altogether.
When shoes are too tight, too narrow, or too high, your little toes get bent into hammertoes. Even worse? Because the toe isn't flat, it can rub against your shoes, causing irritation and pain. Dr. Robbins suggests finding shoes that don't put pressure on the raised part of the toe.
4. You Don't Stretch Enough.
Did you know you can - and should - stretch your feet on a regular basis, especially if you exercise a lot? If not, you risk plantar fasciitis, which is a fancy way of saying the tissue on the bottom of the foot gets irritated and inflamed. 'Stretching the foot before any physical activity can help to alleviate symptoms, as well as icing after,' says podiatric surgeon Dr. Bela Pandit. Over-the-counter arch supports can also help.
Wait, what?! This is the reward for losing a few pounds. Unfortunately, yes. 'For every 10 pounds that you gain or lose, the muscles in your feet either expand or contract, so the shoes you were wearing before may now be giving you too little support or too much,' explains Pandit. (A tip: Orthotics can help alleviate the discomfort.)
6) You Hurt Your Hip (Or Your Knee Or Back).
… and it's making you walk crooked. When you put too much weight on one side, this triggers bursitis, an inflammation of the joint (often on the back of a heel), Pandit explains. (Being off-kilter can also cause neuromas and stress fractures.) Anti-inflammatory medication, ice, and rest usually fix the issues, but to really solve them, you need to treat the original injury
7) You've Just Got A Pedicure.
'If you try to cut into the corner of your nail but leave a little piece, that piece can grow and dig into the skin causing an ingrown nail,' Robbins explains. (It also happens when you squeeze into a too-small pair of shoes or stub your toe.) Ouch! Soaking in warm water with Epsom salts or white vinegar will soften the skin, decrease inflammation, and draw out any drainage. But if you truly want to avoid getting them at all, gently round your nails or cut them straight across.
8) You Have Diabetes.
The autoimmune disorder can lead to circulation issues, nerve pain, muscle and joint problems, and infections. If the pain is severe, check your blood sugar — and speak to your doctor.
Moderate and lingering pain (as opposed to shooting) might mean a stress fracture, explains Pandit. These tiny fractures are usually caused by abnormal stress or normal activity on a weakened bone. 'I see them when people try new, high-intensity workouts and aren't wearing proper shoes,' she says. The best thing to do is just slow down and stay off your foot as much as possible for about a week.
10) You've Got Flat Feet - or a High Arch.
Bad news: The natural shape of your foot can, in itself, cause discomfort. 'If you have a really flat foot you're going to strain the ligaments on the inside of your ankle. If you have a really high arch then you're going to strain the ligaments on the outside of your ankle,' Robbins reports. Blame this one on your parents, and then make sure you buy shoes with the right kind of support, like arch supports or custom orthotics.
11) You Stand At Work.
Well, there goes that request for a standing desk (we're not kidding). Because the reality is spending 10 hours or more on your feet can cause soreness and even swelling. If your profession keeps you on your toes all day, try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, to help with inflammation. Expert tip: Rolling a cold or frozen water bottle or ice pack under your foot for about 20 minutes is a great pain-reliever, too. You can do this up to three or four times a day, says Dr. Pandit.
12) You're Pregnant.
Just add this to the other joys (morning sickness, back strain, tiredness) of pregnancy. A few months in, your body starts secreting hormones so that your ligaments in your hips can relax. Great for giving birth, but really bad for your feet. Add swelling on top of that and your bunions, curled up toes, and more will really give you trouble. The good thing is the swelling will eventually go down, but once your ligaments stretch out, they'll stay that way, says Robbins. One sure-fire fix? New, bigger shoes!