If we are able to enjoy activities like walking, running, jumping, or climbing stairs, it is thanks to the sophisticated structure of ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones that make up the foot. But for how resilient this structure is, it isn’t always immune to injuries and disorders that can lead to chronic foot pain.
Today, it is estimated that up to 36% of adults will suffer from foot pain at least once in their life. But besides causing discomfort and pain, foot ligament conditions can also cause disability, and significantly reduce foot function and quality of life.
Fortunately, taking pain medications or resorting to invasive surgical interventions are no longer the only two treatment options available to address foot ligament pain.
Thanks to the whole-person protocol pioneered by Neuragenex – Neurofunctional Pain Management – you can regain your foot health and magnify your quality of life without medications or surgery. Let’s explore the causes and risk factors of foot ligament pain and gain valuable insights into managing and preventing it.
Anatomy Of A Ligament In A Foot
A ligament is a strong band of fibers grouped together to create the “ropes” that connect one bone to another. Ligaments can be found throughout the body, and, in each joint, these cord-like bands play a role in stabilizing the bones. During movements, the ligaments keep the joint’s bones in place, preventing dislocations and other injuries.
In each foot, there are over 30 ligaments responsible for keeping the different bones and joints in place. These ligaments also stabilize the gait, provide support to the arch of the foot, and absorb the shock deriving from each step.
Most of the ligaments in the foot run along the arch of the foot (between the toes and the heel) and across the width of the foot to connect the tarsal and metatarsal bones (the bones forming the ankle, heel, and sole of the foot).
Below, we’ll look at the four main ligaments in the foot and the role they play in maintaining foot health.
Plantar Fascia Ligament
The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the base of the toes with the heel bone. This ligament is responsible for providing structure to the sole, and it acts as a shock absorber during movements such as running, jumping, or walking.
When you move your foot, the plantar fascia stretches, absorbing and storing energy. This energy is then released when pushing the foot off the ground. Given these mechanics, the plantar fascia ligament plays a vital role in supporting explosive strength, propulsion, balance, and shock absorption.
Plantar Calcaneonavicular Ligament (Spring Ligament)
Also known as the Spring Ligament, the Plantar Calcaneonavicular is a structure consisting of three ligaments that connect the bone in the midfoot (navicular) to the calcaneus, a large bone that composes the base of the heel.
This ligament is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the arch of the foot, especially its underside area. What’s more, the Spring Ligament assists other structures in counteracting your body weight and absorbing shock during weight-bearing activities. This action prevents excessive flattening and collapse of the arch while walking or running.
The Calcaneocuboid Ligament is a cord-like structure that connects the calcaneus (the heel bone) to the cuboid bone. The cuboid bone is a cube-shaped bone located on the external side of the foot and works as a main attachment for several muscles involved with foot movement.
Connecting the heel to the midfoot, the Calcaneocuboid Ligament has the function to create the arch of the foot and aiding in weight-bearing and walking. The ligaments also modulate the movement of the foot, prevent excessive motions, and distribute forces across the foot to ensure proper alignment between the hindfoot and forefoot.
The Lisfranc ligament is a structure composed of three distinct ligaments:
- The plantar ligament,
- The dorsal ligament,
- And the interosseous ligament.
These ligaments run obliquely across the foot and connect the bones of the midfoot, specifically the metatarsal bones to the tarsal bones. Although the Lisfranc joint complex has a limited range of motion, it plays a vital role in the process of transferring forces from the back of the foot to the front of the foot, a process necessary to enable movements such as walking.
Other Associated Symptoms Aside From Pain
If one of the ligaments above is affected by injury, inflammation, irritation, or damage, you’ll experience one of the most common symptoms of foot ligament disorders: pain. But, besides pain and discomfort, you may also report a range of signs that can help you identify the root cause of your condition.
Below, we’ll look at the symptoms you should watch out for:
Swelling is a symptom often associated with injuries (i.e.: sprains, strains, and tears) and high levels of inflammation. This is because the increased blood pressure and build-up of fluids are a normal part of the body’s inflammatory response.
Bruising often occurs when a ligament in the foot is torn or ruptured (becomes entirely detached from the bone). An injury or trauma results in damage to the small blood vessels nearby, which causes internal bleeding, discoloration, and bruising.
- Limited range of motion
The main ligaments in the foot play a vital role in supporting the movement of the bones belonging to each joint. Damaged ligaments cannot provide the necessary support for normal joint movement, thus leading to stiffness and restricted mobility.
If you feel that your foot is not able to provide support or balance, you may be dealing with a foot ligament disorder or injury. This is because a damaged or weakened ligament may no longer be able to stabilize the joints in the foot, keep the bones in place during movement, and redistribute forces.
Whether your ligament condition derives from an inflammatory disorder (i.e.: tendinitis), or from a traumatic injury, you are likely to experience stiffness in your ankle or foot. Stiffness often occurs as a consequence of the body’s inflammatory response, which causes swelling and fluid build-up around the injured area. What’s more, injured ligaments may not be able to contract and relax as they should during movement, causing a decrease in flexibility and mobility.
- Pain with movement
Injuries and inflammatory conditions of the foot may be aggravated by exercise or forceful movements, leading to more intense painful conditions. If you have disorders like plantar fasciitis, the first steps you take in the morning or after periods of rest are the most painful ones.Other symptoms may be associated with specific conditions. For example, changes in your foot’s mechanics can lead to abnormal bony growths (bone spurs). Other chronic conditions affecting the ligaments can lead to the collapse of the arch of the foot and the permanent degeneration of tissue.
Conditions Associated With Painful Foot Ligaments
Foot ligament pain can sometimes be temporary, especially if you’ve been wearing inadequate footwear or you’ve been spending too much time on your feet. However, if you experience long-lasting (chronic) painful sensations, you should not underestimate the severity of your condition.
Over time, inflammatory conditions and fractures can change your foot mechanics which, in turn, can impact how your body weight is distributed during movement. If left unaddressed, these issues can cause imbalances and damage to areas of the foot that should normally be unaffected during movement.
What’s more, foot ligament pain is sometimes caused by serious degenerative conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and gout. If left untreated, these conditions can end up permanently damaging the structures that keep the foot healthy and mobile.
Below, we’ll look at some of the most common conditions behind foot ligament pain. However, if you have been experiencing foot pain and discomfort, you should immediately seek an accurate diagnosis.
Sprained is one of the most common forms of injury to foot ligaments. They often occur alongside ankle sprains when twisting your foot or rolling your ankle. During a sprain, a ligament is damaged due to sudden twists, blows, or falls that cause the fibers to stretch in the wrong direction or beyond their capacity.
Depending on the amount of damage reported by the ligaments, sprains are categorized in:
- Grade 1: The stretch caused microscopic tears in the ligament
- Grade 2: There is a partial tear in the ligament
- Grade 3: The ligament is entirely torn
Sprained ligaments cause a cascade of symptoms, including pain, bruising, swelling, reduced range of motion, and instability. If a ligament is completely torn, you may be unable to shift your body weight on your injured foot.
Sprained ligaments are often a consequence of forceful movements or direct trauma, but they are more likely to occur in individuals who engage in activities that involve movements like jumping or changing direction often.
Strains are a type of injury in which tissue – such as muscles and tendons – is overstretched. It can occur due to sudden movements or forceful actions, and often affects the surrounding structures.
A strained ligament in the foot will cause symptoms associated with the inflammatory response of the body to injury, including swelling, pain, and tenderness. This condition can be caused by poor muscle conditioning or excessive stress to the joints of the ankle and foot (i.e.: the excess weight carried by those obese or overweight).
Acute sprains and other injuries can lead to ligament tears. This is a severe condition that causes the ripping of fibrous tissue in the ligaments of the foot.
Torn ligaments usually occur due to sudden injuries or forceful overstretching. However, they may also be a result of the degeneration of ligaments, which can become weaker, less flexible, and prone to tears due to aging or overuse. Participating in sports that involve frequent pivoting, running on uneven surfaces, and jumping can increase your risk of suffering ligament tears.
Ligament tears can cause swelling, bruising, pain, and ankle instability, and the symptoms of this condition can take multiple months to ease down. In severe cases, you may also experience difficulty walking or shifting weight on the injured foot.
Sometimes, the ligament can become entirely detached from the bone, which leads to a ruptured ligament, a condition that requires surgical intervention.
Acute ankle sprains that lead to ligament tears may seem minor at first, but they should not be left unaddressed. Indeed, in 70% of cases, a history of ligament injuries develops into more serious and longer-lasting conditions such as chronic ankle instability (CAI), reduced foot mobility, and disability.
Tendonitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when a tendon in the foot becomes inflamed, irritated, or damaged. It can affect any tendon in the leg or foot but tends to target the tendons involved with pulling the top of the foot upwards.
This condition often occurs due to repetitive motions, forceful movements, or overuse. You may be at greater risk of tendinitis if you engage in activities that involve activities like running or jumping, or if you are obese or overweight. Improper footwear, poor muscle conditioning, and age are also considered to be contributing factors to this condition.
Altough tendonitis does not immediately affect the ligaments in the foot, high levels of inflammation, tenderness, and pain may start to spread in the areas around the joint. If left unaddressed, tendonitis can permanently damage surrounding structures (including ligaments) and lead to long-term complications like chronic foot pain.
Plantar fasciitis, or Plantar Heel Pain (PHP), is one of the most common reasons for foot pain, and it accounts for over 600,000 healthcare visits in the US alone. Plantar fasciitis occurs due to the abnormal and sustained inflammation of the fascia, or the band of ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot, from the heel to the toes.
PHP is considered to be one of the most widespread foot ligament injuries and can have many risk factors, including:
- Excessive stress
- Being obese or overweight
- Engaging in activities like trail running or dancing
- Wearing inadequate footwear
- Mechanical problems like flat feet and high arches
Plantar fasciitis can be a chronic pain condition that, if left untreated, can lead to reduced quality of life and disability.
Lisfranc (Midfoot) Injury
The Lisfranc joint is a joint located in the middle of the foot, between the metatarsal bones and the tarsal bones. This joint acts as the main attachment for the ligaments and muscles in the midfoot. An injury to the Lisfranc joint, such as a bone fracture or dislocation, can cause the surrounding ligaments to stretch beyond capacity and tear.
Although minor Lisfranc injuries can heal through immobilization or splinting, more severe damage to the joint and surrounding ligaments may require surgery.
Fracture Of Fifth Metatarsal
If you have been experiencing pain on the outside of the foot, the culprit could be a fracture in the fifth metatarsal. The fifth metatarsal is a long bone that runs across the external side of the foot, connecting the midfoot to the little toe.
Acute injury to this bone can happen in many ways, including:
- A sudden ankle twist
- Direct blow to the foot
- Hairline fractures
- Avulsion fractures (caused by a stretched ligament that pulls away a fragment of the bone)
You may also be at greater risk of fractures of the fifth metatarsal if you engage in high-impact activities or experience repetitive stress to the foot. Symptoms of this condition include pain, swelling, and the inability to bear weight on the affected foot.
If the bone is displaced or you have suffered multiple fractures to the shaft or head of the bone, you may require surgery. In the case of minor injuries, you can accelerate the healing process through rest and immobilization.
Injuries that cause foot pain may also stem from the natural, aging-related degeneration of the fibrous tissue that composes the ligaments. As we age, the ligaments responsible for supporting the structure of the foot can become weaker, less flexible, and more prone to tearing. In turn, even the simplest motion, such as climbing stairs, can lead to injuries.
It is important to note that the degeneration of ligaments is accelerated by risk factors such as obesity, anatomical abnormalities, inadequate footwear, and engaging in activities that put your feet under excessive or repetitive stress.
Conditions We Treat in Neuragenex
Diagnosing Foot Ligament Conditions
Given the fact that a range of conditions causes foot ligament pain and that many of these conditions have similar symptoms, diagnosing foot pain isn’t always easy. Because of this, your doctor may use several diagnostic tests and tools to determine what’s at the source of your pain.
Some of the tests involved with the diagnosis of foot pain include:
- Your medical history: Your doctor will analyze your medical history to determine whether you may be at risk of conditions linked to foot pain, like arthritis or diabetes.
- Physical exam: Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine the foot for swelling, tenderness, reduced range of motion, and mechanical anomalies.
- Imaging tests: Tests like X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, and ultrasound tests use different techniques (i.e.: sound waves, magnets, etc.) to create an image of the inside of your foot.
Looking at structures like bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, your doctor will be able to determine whether there are anomalies (i.e.: bone spurs, tumors, and fractures) that could be at the source of your pain.
- Stress tests: Stress tests involve the manipulation of your foot and adding pressure to specific points to measure the stability of structures like ligaments and tendons.
- Diagnostic injections: If the source of the pain is unclear, your doctor may use diagnostic injections of local anesthetic to determine the “pain generator”, or the part of the body that is causing pain.
Common Treatment Options
To effectively treat your foot ligament pain, you’ll need to start by obtaining an accurate diagnosis first. However, if you have just experienced a sprain, or you are battling chronic arthritis, some treatment options can help you alleviate the pain during flare-ups, including the following:
- RICE Method
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This remedy is used to decrease inflammation and swelling while easing the pressure on the foot. The RICE method can ease flare-ups and prevent the build-up of fluids that occurs immediately after injury.
Pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help by temporarily reducing inflammation, blocking pain signals, and providing relief from foot ligament conditions.
They can be effective in managing pain but should always be used in the short term to avoid potential side effects, which include addiction and the increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Physical Therapy
Physical Therapy uses exercises, movements, and manipulation to help improve the foot’s mobility, strength, and function. Over time, it can counteract musculoskeletal issues that could be aggravating your foot condition.
- Surgical Interventions
In severe cases, your foot ligament pain can be caused by multiple fractures or a ruptured ligament. When this happens, you may need to resort to surgical procedures to repair torn ligaments and reconstruct damaged components of the foot.
How Neurofunctional Pain Management Helps Chronic Foot Ligament Pain
For those suffering from chronic or acute foot ligament pain, even the simplest action – such as walking or climbing stairs – is accompanied by excruciating pain. And, if you are among those affected by this condition, you know that, over time, foot pain will impact your ability to live independently, work, practice sports, or participate in social activities.
But there is an alternative that can help you avoid taking medications daily to manage your pain or fearing having to undergo surgery. Neuragenex has developed an innovative whole-person approach that targets the source of your foot pain and addresses all of those factors that are aggravating your chronic foot pain.
Thanks to the three pillars of Neurofunctional Pain Management – Electroanalgesia, Specialized Hydration Therapy, and Lifestyle Counseling – you can treat your pain condition without medications or surgery, and lay the foundation of long-lasting musculoskeletal health. Let’s discover this approach in more detail below.
Electroanalgesia is a pain management technique that uses high-pulse electrical current to ease pain, boost blood circulation, improve mobility, and induce...
IV nutritional therapy, or intravenous therapy, involves administering vital nutrients directly to the bloodstream through an IV. This type of treatment bypasses the digestive system, allowing for maximum absorption and utilization of nutrients by the...
Lifestyle counseling is an approach to managing chronic pain that involves identifying, assessing, and modifying lifestyle factors contributing to an individual's pain. For example, lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical activity, stress, sleep quality...
Discover Effective Foot Pain Management with Neuragenex
At Neuragenex, our goal is to look beyond simply treating foot ligament pain. While easing pain is certainly positive, our aim is to tackle all of those lifestyle choices, health factors, and habits that may be putting your foot at a recurring risk of injuries and pain.
Through ad hoc Neurofunctional Pain Management programs, we can help you restore your foot health without medications or surgery, and help you lay the foundations of a life free of musculoskeletal pain
Ready to find relief from body pain? Schedule a consultation with us today