The Athlete

Common Foot Problems


A hammertoe is a flexible or rigid contraction of a toe. The toe bends at the joint area and the tendon that connects muscle to bone tissue normally tightens or stretches. Ligaments, which connect one bone to another bone, may also tighten or stretch, causing the toe bones to assume an abnormal position. Shoes will often lead to abnormal pressure and friction on the top of the toe, resulting in a painful inflammation above the toe joint. Often this leads to a hard corn formation. If left untreated, this condition may progress to ulcers or infections.

Metatarsal Pain

Metatarsalgia is a general term that denotes a painful condition that involves the metatarsal region of the foot, just before the toes, sometimes referred to as the "ball of the foot." There are five metatarsal bones in the foot, which are similar to the "knuckles" on the hand. Each metatarsal serves to distribute the entire weight of the body across the forefoot, which is the area of the foot from the metatarsal bones forward, including the toes.

The forefoot is composed of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and skin, which all interrelate. Each part may cause painful conditions alone or in combination together at the junction known as the Metatarsal-Phalangeal Joints (the toe bones are called Phalanges).

Pain in this area is often caused by callouses, which may diffuse and spread over a broad area or be localized and deep rooted. They may or may not have a painful bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that lies between the skin and bone, associated with them.

Callouses are caused by either structural (anatomic variation) or functional (variation in the way the foot functions) problems.


Warts are caused by a virus, which can recur. An individual who has a wart may develop additional warts. Plantar warts are often mistaken for corns or callouses on the sole of the foot, where they are usually found, although they can also occur on the toes. Plantar warts have a spongy appearance with little black, brown, or red spots that are blood vessels feeding them. The lesions are circumscribed, meaning you may be able to notice a light ring around each growth, separating it from the surrounding skin.


A large percentage of the population develops bunions, usually women, but also men. A bunion is a swelling or enlargement of the large toe joint on the inner side of the foot. The deformity usually develops gradually but continuously, which will cause pain from shoes rubbing against the enlarged bone. There may be swelling, redness, and deep aching pain associated with the bunion joint, causing a bursitis.

Bunions develop from a weakness in the bone structure of the foot. Because of the instability of the bones and ligaments, which form the various joints and arches in the foot, the joints have a tendency to move out of proper alignment. Therefore, the development of the bunion deformities can sometimes be seen even in young children, but usually are found in adults. Bunions are not caused by improper footgear, but can be significantly aggravated by improperly fitting shoes, which place an unusual degree of pressure on the bunion joint. As a bunion becomes more severe, the joint moves out of proper alignment, and if left untreated, arthritis will eventually damage the joint space. This causes the large toe to move sideways towards the second toe, and the foot to widen across the metatarsal area.