An image of a swollen feet.

Step Into Comfort: A Guide to Surgery-Free Foot Relief

This article was written by Chris Marshall

A whopping 87% of people experience foot pain at some point in their lives, but the extent and timeframe for which we experience this can vary significantly from person to person.

For some, this means a minor one-off injury brought on by ill-fitting footwear or after a hard training session in the gym.

For others, this means repeated foot pain which is in connection with a longer-term problem or health condition. Some of the most common include (osteo)arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, heel spurs, and plantar fasciitis.

Whether you’re feeling short-term pain or are learning to live with a prolonged condition, we’ve outlined some foot pain treatment without surgery for those looking for relief.


What causes chronic foot pain?


Chronic foot pain is caused by various reasons. Sometimes, it can be prompted by an injury like a fracture, sprain, or strain, with lingering pain lasting for months and even years.    

Other times, it can be due to an underlying health condition. If you’ve adjusted your walk to compensate for the pain and found yourself to be dragging your feet while feeling a loss of sensation, this could be due to nerve damage. About 30% of these cases are linked to diabetes, but it could also be due to infection, vitamin deficiency, or alcoholism.

Swollen feet, for example, could be a sign of poor blood circulation. Or it could relate to an underactive thyroid, kidney issues, or a problem with the lymphatic system.

If your foot pain hasn’t been brought on by an obvious injury or accident, consider seeing a physician or podiatrist to understand the root cause.


Joint Pain - Arthritis


‘Arthritis’ is an umbrella term, covering pain and inflammation of a joint.

In the case of feet, arthritis can affect multiple areas (though hopefully not all at once!). These are most commonly in the ankle, arch, and big toe.

It’s important to note the different types of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis relates specifically to joint degeneration and is caused by general joint wear and tear.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is due to the immune system attacking joints.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis manifests after experiencing trauma to a joint.

Pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited or restricted range of motion could be a sign of arthritis in the foot.

Up to 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will actually display symptoms in their feet at the point of diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there’s no formal cure for arthritis. There are, however, solutions for foot pain treatment without surgery. Red light therapy is a good example of this.


Joint Pain - Gout


Gout is a condition that causes sudden pain and swelling in the joints. In feet, it often appears in the big toe.

Gout is caused by hyperuricemia - a condition where there’s an excess of uric acid (created to help break down food) in your blood. This then leads to a build-up of crystals in and around joints which creates inflammation.

Again, there’s sadly no cure for gout. But with proper treatment, gout sufferers can live a fairly normal existence.


Soft Tissue Pain - Bursitis and Tendonitis


Bursitis and tendonitis are sometimes referred to as ‘soft tissue rheumatic syndromes.’ This refers to the site of pain in the soft tissue areas (i.e. tendons, ligaments, and muscles) around a joint.

More specifically, bursitis describes the inflammation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac (‘bursa’) that surrounds a joint. It is generally caused in feet by either (or both) repetitive overuse of a joint or under-stretching of it before use.

Tendonitis describes the inflammation and swelling of a tendon and is often caused by sudden or jerking movements or repetitive strain on a particular tendon.

These conditions can manifest themselves through symptoms such as pain, redness, stiffness, swelling, and warmth in the foot and wider foot area.

Interesting fact: soft-tissue rheumatism (including tendonitis and bursitis) accounts for up to 25% of rheumatologist referrals.

With adequate rest and the right treatment, both bursitis and tendonitis can go away fully. Bursitis can be healed in a few weeks, while tendonitis can take a few months to heal. See below for different treatment methods you should try.


Heel Spurs


Spurs are bony growths (made of calcium) that form gradually on the edges of a bone, e.g. the heel of your foot. Spurs are often found at a point where two bones meet.

Although heel spurs in their own right don’t cause pain, they can affect tissue structures around them, which then causes discomfort.

Heel spurs are caused by repeated strain on the ligaments and muscles in the foot (i.e. plantar fasciitis) and repeated tearing of the membrane that covers the heel.

They can cause the area to feel tender or painful and can be experienced as either a dull ache, sharp pain/s, or a throbbing sensation. You may also be able to feel the lump created by the bony growth on the outside of the heel.

Heel spurs can’t be cured and, although they can technically be removed, this is rarely the preferred call of action by medical professionals, who instead prefer to advise on treatments to alleviate the symptoms.


Inflammation of specific areas - plantar fasciitis


Plantar fasciitis (i.e. inflammation of the plantar fascia tissue) manifests itself as pain on the sole of the foot, particularly the heel and sometimes the arch.

It can be caused by standing/walking/running on hard surfaces or a sudden increase in physical activity. It can also be brought on depending on your weight and choice of footwear (i.e. less support = more pain).

As mentioned, the main symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain along the bottom of the foot. This can feel worse when applying weight to your feet after a period of rest and can be experienced as a sharper pain when applying more weight/stress to the area than usual, i.e. jumping.


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In most cases, patients completely recover from plantar fasciitis within a few months of starting treatment.


Inflammation of specific areas - sesamoiditis


Sesamoiditis describes inflammation of the sesamoid bones and connected tendons, which (specifically in feet) are located in the ball of the foot. It’s typically caused by overuse of the tendons in this area.

Sesamoiditis symptoms include swelling, pain, and redness around the big toe and the joint linking it to the foot. In bad cases, patients feel a throbbing in the area.

The bad news: sesamoiditis cannot be completely cured.

The good news: it can be managed and prevented with several actions, including rest and icing after putting the ball of the foot under strain. Depending on the extent of the injury, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to heal.


Treatment Options for Foot and Heel Pain


As mentioned above, some chronic foot pain conditions are curable and, after completing a full course of appropriate treatment, patients can expect to see a full recovery. Meanwhile, other conditions cannot be cured but their symptoms can be alleviated through a treatment plan.

Some treatments are available only through medical professionals, whereas others can be tried in the comfort of your own home.

Regardless, it’s important to seek medical advice if you are concerned about any of the treatments or any symptoms you are experiencing.


Physical therapy


When experiencing an injury or inflammation, you could explore physical therapy to build strength and flexibility in both the area in question and the surrounding area (to boost mobility).

With a combination of other foot pain treatment without surgery, physical therapy can help you to gain strength back in the foot and correct issues with the joint. The physio will be able to advise on how to prevent the pain from reoccurring in the future too.


Orthopedic gel pads and footwear


Orthopedic gel pads are like an insole with added protection. They can be slotted into almost any footwear to provide cushioning support for your feet throughout the day.

These gel pads, or correct footwear, can help prevent foot pain by providing support to the arch of the foot and cushioning where needed. This means they can absorb shock which is particularly beneficial if your pain comes from putting too much stress on the joints.

Orthopedic gel pads come in a variety of shapes and support levels to suit your needs and your lifestyle (of course you want to make sure they fit discreetly inside your favorite boots!). Off-the-shelf pads cost roughly $18-$26 per pair.

You might even choose to go as far as getting personalized ones, which are made from either casts, scans, or even a 3D impression of your feet (referred to as ‘custom orthotics’). 




There are various kinds of injections available to help alleviate foot pain:

  • Steroids are an anti-inflammatory medicine, used to treat various ailments.
  • Corticosteroid (AKA “cortisone”) is commonly used for arthritis, gout, heel spurs, and sesamoiditis.
  • Triamcinolone is a kind of steroid that reduces swelling and pain in patients with bursitis.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) uses blood plasma to enhance the body's natural regenerative abilities, commonly used to treat tendon and ligament injuries.

Dextrose provides your body with extra carbohydrates and water to reduce pain and restore connective tissues; it’s used to treat plantar fasciitis.

Injections can vary greatly in price between providers and the exact kind of injection, but you should expect to pay $250+ per injection.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) include well-known names such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and more. They are perhaps the most easily accessible way to alleviate foot pain.

The price of NSAIDS varies but is much cheaper than other treatments in this list, but they can only be used for short-term pain treatment and they have numerous side effects you should be aware of too.

You should use these as directed and should contact a medical professional if you have any concerns or are looking for other medication that may be suitable.


Red light therapy


Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that uses specific wavelengths to stimulate cellular activity and promote function, repair, and regeneration.

It can be used in a targeted way, so there’s ultimate precision as you can apply it directly to the affected area. 

Once the light penetrates the skin and is absorbed by cells, it stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an energy-carrying molecule that works like a charged battery or a full piggy bank; you can store energy in it and withdraw when needed.

This increased cellular energy leads to enhanced tissue repair, reduced inflammation, and the release of endorphins which are the body's natural pain relievers.

This means any swelling in the foot (which limits motion and range) can be improved and tissue can be repaired quicker than the body’s natural response.

How do I know when my foot pain is serious?


You’ll know your foot pain is serious when you spot these warning signs. Remember though, that only you know your body - if something doesn’t feel right (but isn’t on this list) seek help as soon as possible.

  • Severe (or unrelenting) pain or swelling
  • Feelings of burning or numbness
  • Signs of infection, e.g. redness, warmth
  • Inability to walk

If you’ve experienced direct trauma to the foot due to an accident or injury, you should reach out for help too.

For more articles on pain relief, read:

Chris Marshall

Chris Marshall

Job Title: Health and Fitness Content Writer
Location: United Kingdom
Bio: Chris Marshall is an experienced health and fitness writer with a passion to empower others to achieve better health and well-being through meaningful lifestyle changes.

With a background in nutrition and fitness, Chris aims to deliver science-based, informative content to educate others.

Alongside health and fitness writing, he also works with private online clients to build positive lifestyle habits and improve their overall well-being.

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