Campus Health and Safety
January 2014
Foot Pain and Problems – Their Causes, Prevention and Treatments

The foot is one of the most complicated parts of the body, consisting of lots of bones, joints, over a hundred muscles, tendons, ligaments, a network of blood vessels and nerves. All these components work together to bear the weight of the whole body in maintaining balance and mobility and help to absorb shock during walking or running. Due to the complex mechanical structure of the human foot, a structural failure or malfunction in any part can cause various types of pain, and might affect other parts of the body and cause problems such as back pain and neck pain.

Mr Alex Cheung, Registered Physiotherapist, was invited by the Campus Medical Clinic for a health talk last month to explain the causes for common foot problems and how they can be prevented and treated. 
According to Mr Cheung, the common foot problems many people are suffering from include:
  • Ankle sprain (足踝扭傷)
  • Plantar fasciitis (足底筋膜炎)
  • Hallux valgus (拇指外翻)
  • Flat foot (扁平足)
While many people consider that foot problems are an inevitable part of the ageing process, Mr Cheung pointed out that similar problems are also suffered by the younger population. The common causes for these problems include:
  • trauma,
  • sudden increase in walking/running speed and mileage,
  • improper shoe wear,
  • previous injury to pelvis/chronic back pain,
  • inadequate warm up/conditioning before sport activities, and
  • overuse and muscle tightness.
Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain. It is due to inflammation of the fibrous band tissues that support the foot arch. The pain usually locates at the plantar (bottom surface of the foot, or sole) and surface of the heel when standing or walking. The cause of plantar fasciitis includes prolonged standing or walking, wearing worn-out shoes and incorrect walking posture. Patients with plantar fasciitis might feel stiffness and pain in the morning or after resting. The pain could also get worse after walking or standing for a long period of time. Patients might also have a burning or a sharp pain feeling on the heel and the bottom of the feet might swell. People having the plantar fasciitis symptoms should reduce daily activities and get enough rest. They should also perform proper heel and foot stretching exercises such as flexing the toes and legs when they wake up in the morning. 
"Flat feet" is also a common foot problem in Hong Kong. It is a condition in which the arches inside the feet are flattened, resulting in the entire sole of the foot flattened on the ground when standing. This may be due to the improper development of the arches during childhood, or possibly associated with other causes such as injury or arthritis. Due to the absence of arches, flat feet patients might get tired easily when walking or standing. This may also lead to further deformation of the feet. Patients usually feel the pain especially in the areas of the arches and heels. Doctors usually treat patients with custom-designed arch supports to be put inside their shoes, which can help reduce the workload of the muscles and the tendons during walking, and help to keep the feet in a better shape. Other treatments can also include orthotics and foot gymnastics.
Readers can learn more about this topic by reviewing the talk by Mr Cheung at:
(This article is written by Health Concepts Ltd., the HKUST's medical clinic operator.)