What Causes Stiff Feet?

Ron Marr

Stiffness or pain in the feet, toes, or ankles might be indicative of several different progressive, chronic conditions. This is not surprising when one considers that the foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This complex structure is the source of balance and mobility, and stiff feet can foreshadow problems in other parts of the body. In the same vein, problems or diseases in other parts of the body can cause stiff feet.

High heels can cause stiff feet.
High heels can cause stiff feet.

Arthritis, either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, might be the cause of stiff feet. Osteoarthritis is the most common arthritic malady, involving a gradual compaction and deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the body’s joints. Stiff feet are sometimes the result of the breakdown of the joint at the base of the big toe. This joint — referred to as the metatarsophalangeal joint in podiatrist circles and trivia games — becomes stiff or immobile. A person must alter the way he walks when the normal flex and bend of the big toe is absent, leading to stiffness in the entire foot.

Stiff feet may be caused from arthritis.
Stiff feet may be caused from arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis can, over time, cause the foot’s arch to collapse, leading to pain and stiffness. This disease can also cause bunions, calluses, corns, and a general soreness on the soles of the feet. Osteoarthritis can affect any bone in the foot, as well as a loss of function in the ankle joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause bunions as well as stiff feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause bunions as well as stiff feet.

A much rarer cause of stiff feet is a rheumatic disease known as scleroderma. This ailment causes the skin to thicken on the hands, face, and feet. The thickening tightens the skin and causes a stiff feeling. Scleroderma can also affect the internal organs, but it is very uncommon.

A podiatrist may be consulted to determine the cause of stiff feet.
A podiatrist may be consulted to determine the cause of stiff feet.

Simple as it may seem, injuries and improperly fitted footwear can contribute to stiff feet. A woman with a preference for high heels sometimes experiences a shortening of the Achilles tendon. Stiffness and pain can occur if she suddenly reverts to flat shoes or walks barefoot. High heels are also sometimes responsible for scarring and callusing of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot, causing a painful stiffness. These syndromes can both be treated, and usually repaired, by an orthopedist, rheumatologist, or podiatrist.

Many people may experience stiff feet upon waking. This is common with age and mild forms of arthritis, and the feeling usually dissipates as the person begins to move about. The joints of an older individual are usually lacking in cartilage and the fluid that lubricates the joints. The joint is lubricated with increased movement, and the stiffness of the feet lessens.

Applying ice to a sore heel may provide pain relief.
Applying ice to a sore heel may provide pain relief.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I think it can do wonders for your self esteem though, wearing high heels and you can always take the precautions of walking around in flats as well.

My mother has worn high heels all her life and she's never had any trouble with her feet, while I've got an aunt who never wears heels and she always has sore feet.

I think it's got a lot to do with your weight and nutrition as well. After all, your feet are having to carry all of your weight all the time and if you weight a lot for the size of your feet it's inevitable that they will eventually become stiff and sore. Feet are pretty resilient though and I think most people won't have any trouble with them.


@indigomoth - It's the women mentioned in the article that I feel bad for. I think a lot of people don't realize their heel pain is due to using high heels too much. It's not a good solution to just say, oh well, I'll get surgery when I'm older to correct the problem if I need to.

People just think that since high heels are so ubiquitous that they are also harmless but that just isn't the case. There's a reason that women's shoes often hurt your feet while you're wearing them and it's not because they are doing them any favors.


Feet are one of the most neglected parts of the body, and I think it's a real shame. It's not enough to paint your nails and think that you've done all you need to do. You need to pay attention to them, make sure they aren't too cold or constantly wet or being injured in the wrong kind of shoes.

There's a reason a foot massage feels so good and it's because they are very good for you. If you can get someone to give you one, you should. Rubbing moisturizer into your feet and letting them soak in hot water is another way to keep them in shape.

When you really think about how dependent we all are on our feet, you start to want to make sure yours are going to last for your whole life without foot problems.

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