Our feet are a complex network of 26 bones, over 30 joints, and numerous tendons and ligaments that work in unison to bear our body weight with every step. Unsurprisingly, this intricate structure can sometimes cause problems, and "pain on top of foot" is a common complaint.

Your feet carry you through daily activities, from work to workouts. But when pain strikes the top of your foot, even simple tasks can become difficult. That nagging ache or sharp pain on the top of your foot may be more than just a nuisance. Let's investigate the causes behind this nagging problem and find solutions to cure your feet problem.

Top Causes of Pain on Top of Foot

The tendons and bones on top of your foot work tirelessly to push you through daily activities. However, pain can arise in this area due to various factors, impacting your active lifestyle or daily routine. Let's explore some common causes of pain on top of your foot:

Extensor Tendonitis

Your extensor tendons are responsible for lifting your toes and flexing your foot upwards. Repetitive activities like running or jumping, or wearing shoes that squeeze your toes, can irritate these tendons. This irritation, called extensor tendonitis, often feels like a dull ache or burning on the top of your foot, and it usually gets worse when you're active.

Stress Fractures

The five long bones connecting your midfoot to your toes are called metatarsals. These bones are especially prone to tiny cracks called stress fractures. Stress fractures develop over time from repetitive stress, common in athletes or those who suddenly increase their activity level. 

Pain on top of your foot due to a stress fracture may be sharp and become worse with activities that put weight on your foot, like walking or running.

Ligament Sprains or Strains

The top of your foot also contains important ligaments that stabilize your joints. Sudden movements, missteps, or sports injuries can overstretch or tear these ligaments, resulting in sprains or strains. Pain from ligament injuries can be sharp or throbbing and may be accompanied by swelling or bruising on the top of your foot.

By knowing these common causes, you can be more mindful of potential risk factors and recognize early signs of pain on top of your foot. Early intervention can often mean faster healing and a quicker return to your active life.

Medical Conditions Related To Pain on Top of Foot

Sometimes, pain on the top of your foot indicates an underlying medical condition rather than a simple injury.


The cartilage in your joints provides a smooth cushion between your bones. Osteoarthritis occurs when this cushion breaks down over time, causing wear and tear. While less common in the foot than other joints, osteoarthritis can affect the base of your big toe or the area where your foot meets your ankle. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving your foot freely in these areas.


Gout attacks occur when uric acid, a waste product your body creates, builds up and forms sharp crystals in your joints. Pain on top of your foot, particularly around the big toe joint, can be a sign of gout.  When gout flares up, it often causes intense pain, redness, swelling, and even a feeling of warmth in the affected joint.

Peripheral Neuropathy

This condition arises when the nerves that reach your feet get damaged.  Diabetes, injuries, autoimmune diseases, and even vitamin deficiencies can all contribute to peripheral neuropathy. While pain on top of your foot is a symptom, peripheral neuropathy can cause a variety of sensations beyond that. You might also experience numbness, tingling, burning, or even muscle weakness in your feet.

If you suspect an underlying medical condition might be causing your top-of-foot pain, schedule a consultation with your podiatrist.

At-Home Care For Your Feet Pain

Try R.I.C.E.

This acronym stands for:

  • Rest: Avoid activities that worsen your pain.
  • Ice: Apply wrapped ice packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times per day to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Compression: Wrap your foot with an elastic bandage for support and to help manage swelling.
  • Elevation: Prop your foot on pillows when sitting or lying down to help reduce swelling.

Over-the-Counter Relief

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) offer temporary pain and inflammation control. Common choices include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

When to See a Podiatrist for Pain on Top of Foot

While home care strategies like R.I.C.E and over-the-counter medications can be valuable for managing initial pain, you still need a professional opinion. Seek prompt attention if you feel the following:

  • Your pain persists beyond a week despite self-care.
  • If it becomes severe and affects your ability to walk.
  • If you experience additional symptoms like numbness, tingling, burning, or visible changes in your foot's shape. 

These signs can point to potential fractures, ligament damage, or underlying conditions that require expert evaluation. If home care doesn't provide the relief you need, a podiatrist can diagnose the root cause of your foot pain and give you a treatment plan.

Get Professional Treatment for Pain on Top of Foot

Based on the diagnosis, the podiatrists at Haro Podiatry Center will develop an effective treatment plan, which may include:

  • Casts or walking boots can protect injured areas and facilitate healing for fractures or severe sprains/strains.
  • Physical therapy to restore strength, flexibility, and range of motion after injuries. 

Don't ignore your foot pain, especially if it persists, worsens, or impacts your daily life. Asking for help from professionals at Haro Podiatry Center can uncover the underlying cause, provide lasting relief, and help you keep your feet healthy and pain-free.

Ibrahim Haro, DPM
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NJ podiatrist helping Clifton area patients with diabetic foot care, foot pain, flat feet, and neuropathy.
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