While less common than heel or toe pain, side of foot pain affects many people. It can hinder everyday activities like walking, working, and exercise. The outer part, made of bones, tendons, and ligaments, works together to keep you balanced. There are many causes of lateral foot pain. Injury, overuse, underlying conditions, and even improper footwear can all contribute to discomfort in this area.

What Causes Pain On The Side of Your Foot? 

Inflammation of the Peroneal Tendons

You have two peroneal tendons along the outer edge of your ankle. These tendons stabilize your ankle and foot, letting you point your toes down and turn your foot outward. Overusing these tendons, especially through repetitive activities like running or jumping, can cause inflammation, leading to peroneal tendonitis. 

Ankle injuries, high arches, or tight calf muscles can also increase your risk. With peroneal tendonitis, you might feel sharp pain behind your ankle bone and along the outside of your foot. The area may also feel swollen or weak.

Tiny Cracks in the Metatarsals

Metatarsals are the five long bones on the top of your foot. Sudden increases in exercise intensity or repetitive stress can cause tiny cracks in these bones, known as stress fractures. Runners, dancers, and athletes are especially prone to stress fractures on the side of the foot.  Bone health conditions like osteoporosis can also make you more susceptible.   

Pain from stress fractures usually starts gradually and worsens during activity. You'll likely feel localized pain and tenderness on the outer portion of your foot where the fracture has occurred.

Dislocation of the Cuboid Bone

The cuboid bone is a cube-shaped bone on the outer part of your midfoot, and it helps maintain foot stability. Repetitive strain on your foot, like in ballet dancers, or a sudden injury can dislocate the cuboid bone, resulting in cuboid syndrome. This condition usually causes localized pain on the outer side of your midfoot and may make walking difficult.

Other Potential Causes of Side of Foot Pain

Several other conditions can also trigger side of foot pain. Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and pain in the joints of your foot. The tarsal coalition, an abnormal fusion of foot bones that's often present since birth, might contribute to discomfort. Bunionettes, a bony bump on the base of the pinky toe sometimes caused by tight shoes, can also lead to pain on the side of the foot.

How To Recognize The Symptoms of Side Foot Pain

So, how do you know if that pain on the side of your foot is something serious? Let's talk about some of the common symptoms.

Location, Severity, and Onset Pain

Side of foot pain might feel sharp, dull, throbbing, or like a burning sensation. The pain is usually focused on the outer part of your foot but can spread to your ankle or heel. Think about how the pain started. Did it come on suddenly after an injury, or gradually over time?

Swelling and Tenderness in the Affected Area

Swelling is common with lateral foot pain, especially around the outer ankle or along the edge of your foot. You might notice tenderness when you touch the affected area.

Difficulty Walking, Standing, or Bearing Weight

Lateral foot pain can make it difficult to walk, stand for extended periods, or put your full weight on the foot. Depending on the cause, even simple activities might become painful.

Instability or Weakness in the Foot

Some conditions that cause side of foot pain can also make your foot feel weak or unstable. You might feel like your ankle could give way.

Ignoring lateral foot pain can sometimes lead to worsening conditions or longer recovery times. If pain persists, worsens, or prevents you from normal activities, it's important to see a podiatrist. They can determine the cause of your pain and recommend the best treatment plan to get you back on your feet.

Pinpointing the Cause for Effective Foot Treatment

Getting a proper diagnosis is the first step toward finding relief from side of foot pain. Here's what you can expect:

1. Consultation with a Podiatrist 

A podiatrist specializes in foot and ankle health. They'll discuss your symptoms, medical history, and activity levels. They'll examine your foot and ankle, looking for swelling, tenderness, and changes in appearance or range of motion.

2. Physical Examination to Assess Mobility, Stability, and Tenderness

Your podiatrist will carefully assess how well you can move your foot and ankle. They'll check the stability of your joints and identify specific areas of pain.

3. X-rays and MRIs for Detailed Examination (if needed)

Sometimes imaging tests are necessary to get a clearer picture of what's happening inside your foot. X-rays show bones and can pinpoint fractures or arthritis. An MRI provides detailed images of soft tissues, including tendons and ligaments.

You need to get the right diagnosis because the most effective treatment depends on the underlying cause of your pain. An accurate diagnosis by a podiatrist can help with your foot treatment plan.

Relief Options for Side of Foot Pain

Treatment for side of foot pain focuses on managing pain, reducing inflammation, and addressing what's causing your discomfort. Let’s break down the common treatment options below.

RICE Protocol for Initial Pain Management

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) is a standard home treatment for many injuries and conditions causing pain. Resting your foot, applying ice for short intervals, wrapping it with a compression bandage, and elevating your foot above heart level can reduce pain and swelling.


Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce pain and inflammation. For more severe cases, your podiatrist may recommend prescription-strength medications.

Supportive Footwear and Orthotics

Switching to shoes with better support and cushioning can take stress off your foot. Custom orthotics (shoe inserts) can correct abnormal foot mechanics and provide additional support to improve stability and reduce pain.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can design a plan to strengthen and stretch the muscles and tendons in your foot and ankle. They will also work with you on proper gait and movement patterns to reduce stress on the injured area.

Alternative Therapies

Therapies like ultrasound or laser therapy might be beneficial in some cases. These treatments can help promote healing and reduce pain. Your podiatrist can discuss whether these options are suitable for you.

Surgical Intervention

Surgery is rarely needed for side of foot pain. However, in cases of severe fractures, tendon tears, or conditions that don't improve with other treatments, your podiatrist may discuss surgical options to relieve your pain.

Proactive Measures To Avoid Foot Injuries

The good news is that many cases of lateral foot pain can be prevented. By taking proactive steps to care for your feet, you can stay active and enjoy a pain-free life. You can do this by following these tips.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

Ill-fitting shoes can throw off your alignment and lead to pain in your feet, ankles, and even knees. Wear shoes designed for your activity level, whether it's running, walking, or everyday wear. Consider visiting a specialized shoe store for expert help in finding the right fit.

Increase Activity Intensity Gradually

Whether you're a seasoned athlete or just starting a new workout routine, listen to your body's signals. Pushing yourself too hard too fast can lead to overuse injuries. Increase intensity and duration gradually to allow your body to adapt and strengthen. This will help you reach your fitness goals while minimizing the risk of lateral foot pain.

Cross-Train with Low-Impact Activities

Incorporate low-impact activities like swimming, biking, or yoga. This helps prevent repetitive stress on your feet and ankles, allowing your body to recover while still keeping you active.

Don't Forget Your Feet and Ankles

Focus on building strength in your foot and ankle muscles. Simple exercises like calf raises, toe curls, and foot stretches can make a big difference.  A physical therapist can create a personalized strengthening routine.

Take the Pressure Off Your Feet

Excess weight puts significant strain on your joints, including your feet. Focus on maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Improve Flexibility and Range of Motion

Regular stretching keeps your muscles and tendons flexible, allowing for a wider range of motion. Stretch your calves, Achilles tendons, and the plantar fascia (the band of tissue on the bottom of your foot). This can help reduce your risk of side of foot pain.

Reclaim Your Pain-Free Life 

Side of foot pain isn't something to ignore.  Lingering pain signals an underlying condition that could worsen without treatment. Seek early diagnosis and care at Haro Podiatry Center for a quicker recovery and to prevent more serious issues. 

Our podiatrists provide personalized care, accurately diagnosing the cause of your pain, and developing a treatment plan to get you back on your feet.

Don't let lateral foot pain limit your ability to move, stay active, and enjoy life. Proactive foot care leads to a better quality of life and allows you to live every day 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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