What causes foot swelling?

Injury or damage to any of the structures in the foot can cause foot swelling. Diseases that affect the entire body, such as heart failure, arthritis, or vascular disease, can also lead to foot swelling.

Common injuries that can lead to foot swelling

A number of common injuries to the foot can cause foot swelling. These injuries include:

  • Ankle sprain
  • Broken foot or toe
  • Burns
  • Dislocation of bones
  • Fragments of bone or cartilage within joint space
  • Insect bite allergy, such as a bee sting, or bite or sting injuries in general
  • Puncture wound (stepping on nail)
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sports injuries
  • Stress fractures
  • Tendon rupture
  • “Turf Toe” (tear in joint capsule at base of great toe)

Inflammatory causes of foot swelling

Inflammation can cause foot swelling restricted to one foot or even a specific location on one foot. Examples of inflammatory causes include:

  • Abscess (localized collection of pus due to an infection or a foreign object under the skin)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac that cushions a joint)
  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying soft tissue)
  • Ingrown toenail
  • Lyme disease
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Papilloma virus infection (plantar warts)
  • Paronychia (nail infection)
  • Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the thick, fibrous tissue on the bottom of the foot)
  • Septic arthritis (infection within joint space)
  • Skin ulceration
  • Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
  • Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels)

Arthritic causes of foot swelling

Inflammation due arthritis can cause foot swelling. Examples of arthritic causes of foot swelling include:

  • Gout (a type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the joints)
  • Osteoarthritis (wearing down of cartilage in the joints)
  • Pseudogout (non-uric acid crystals, acute pain and swelling)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

Situational causes of foot swelling

Foot swelling may result from an activity or situation including:

  • Extended airplane or car rides
  • Menstrual periods (in women)
  • Pregnancy (in women)
  • Standing for extended periods
  • Surgery

Other causes of foot swelling

Foot swelling can also be caused by problems that affect multiple body systems including:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Benign or malignant tumors
  • Blood clots
  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)
  • Heart failure
  • Medication side effects
  • Obesity
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Serious or life-threatening causes of foot swelling

Although life-threatening causes of foot symptoms are rare, all serious injuries, including foot injuries, should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. In some cases, foot swelling that is accompanied by serious symptoms, such as a high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); loss of consciousness; or sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue, may be caused by a serious infection or anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. These life-threatening conditions should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of foot swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your foot swelling including:

  • How long has your foot been swollen?
  • Did you experience an injury to your foot?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as pain or loss of sensation?
  • When do your symptoms occur?
  • Are your symptoms worsened or relieved by movement or specific activities?

What are the potential complications of foot swelling?

Because foot swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Amputation
  • Deformity
  • Difficulty walking
  • Heart failure
  • Loss of mobility
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent disability
  • Serious infections and gangrene
  • Severe discomfort or pain
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Foot injuries and disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/footinjuriesanddisorders.html.
  2. Foot problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/foot-problems.html.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
  4. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy.Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.

What is foot swelling?

Foot swelling is characterized by a buildup of fluid in your foot. A collection of excess fluid anywhere in the body is known as edema. Your entire foot or a portion of your foot may appear larger than normal. The swelling may be painless or accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including bruising, itchiness, pain, numbnes... Read more about foot swellingintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with foot swelling?

Foot swelling may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the feet may also involve other body systems.

Other foot symptoms that may occur along with foot swelling

Foot swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the foot including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Injuries and Wounds

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