Lumpy things are usually thought of as rather unpleasant. Lumpy oatmeal,
lumpy beds, and lumpy midsections for instance are not really the most
appealing things in the world. Lumpy feet, while not necessarily a bad
thing, can also be sources of discomfort or distress.
Lumps in the foot are, unlike foot bumps, formed from soft tissue rather
than bone. They may be made of fluid-filled sacs, swellings of soft tissue,
thickenings of the skin, fatty tissue, or enlargements of nerves, vessels
or muscles. Some soft tissue bumps include the following (although the list
is certainly not comprehensive):
- Ingrown Toenails – If you notice swelling around the edges of your
nail (most often on the big toe), chances are you’ve developed an
ingrown toenail. You can avoid these by trimming nails straight across
and filing down the edges. Once you’ve got one though, take it to your
podiatrist rather than try to cut it out yourself.
- Calluses & Corns – These bumps are thickenings of the skin that
usually form when your foot is under pressure or experiences
consistent friction (say, against the inside of a too-tight shoe, for
- Hammertoes – This condition is not so much a lump as it is a
distortion of your toe (although it can easily lead to calluses and
corns). People with hammertoes have toes that scrunch into the feet,
so that the middle joint of the toe juts up. It’s mostly caused by
muscle imbalances, although it can be exacerbated by wearing shoes
that tend to squish the toes (such as the arch-enemy of podiatrists:
the high-heeled shoe).
- Bursa – Bursas actually tend to form over bony prominences in the
foot. They’re little pockets of inflamed tissue (they usually form
when your foot is experiencing pressure or friction), are usually
rather spongy in texture, and can hurt quite a lot.
- Gout – Gout occurs when uric acid builds up in the blood, leading to
the formation of crystals (made of uric acid) in the joints. The big
toe joint is the one most commonly affected, and can become quite
inflamed and swollen, making your big toe even more lumpy than usual.
- Cysts – These are generally soft, flexible bumps and may be filled
with fluid or a jelly-like substance. They may form as a result of a
puncture wound (inclusion cysts), a weakness in your tendon sheath,
injury, or may form for no apparent reason. (There’s nothing like
lumps for causing a bit of mystery, eh?)
- Tumors – These bumps are often firm to the touch, irregular in shape,
and may or may not cause pain. They often form in ligaments or other
soft tissues, but are almost never malignant in the foot, which can be
a relief if you find them hanging about.
- Tendonitis (specifically Achilles tendonitis) – When your Achilles
tendon is injured (torn) or frayed, there may be swelling or lumps
just above where the tendon attaches to the heel bone.
Symptoms will vary depending on the type of lump you’ve got. Some lumps, in
fact, may have no symptoms at all; in general, these lumps don’t need to be
treated. In many cases though, lumpy feet, just like lumpy pillows or
mattresses, are likely to make you feel uncomfortable.
Foot lumps are unlikely to feel as hard as foot bumps (which are made of
bony protrusions, after all), but may range from quite firm and tough to
flexible or spongy, depending on what they’re made of (fluid-filled sacs,
large cell masses, etc.). (And you can often use them for hours of half-
horrified amusement by prodding at them to see how they move and wriggle
under your skin.) Lumps often cause a problem by rubbing against the inside
of shoes, making the skin over the lump irritated, red and swollen. Lumps
may also be painful themselves, and the pain may show up when walking, or
when applying pressure to the lump. Lumps may even affect the proper
function of the foot.
On occasion, some lumps (particularly corns or calluses) may undergo so
much irritation that they deteriorate into an ulcer. These can be quite
serious, particularly for diabetic patients who have trouble healing. See
your podiatrist immediately if you develop an ulcer on any part of your
If you find a lump on your foot, especially if it causes you pain, it’s a
good idea to get a podiatrist to look at it. When you go in to the office,
the podiatrist will likely discuss your symptoms with you, take a look at
the lump, and may prod or put pressure on it. Sometimes imaging technology
is used to get a better look at the lump, including MRIs, CAT scans, or
(less frequently) X-rays.
Treating a foot lump really depends on the type of lump you have and what
probably caused it. For instance, cortisone injections may be beneficial
for some lumps, and may simply make others worse. Anti-inflammatory
treatments, including medication (such as ibuprofen), applying ice and
resting the foot, may be used to reduce pain. Pressure may be applied to
some lumps, or your podiatrist may decide to drain the lump of fluids
(although this often results in a lump reforming over time). Some lumps
will respond well to orthotics (prescription shoe inserts) or simply a
change in footwear.
In some cases, surgery may be the most effective way to get rid of your
lump for good, improve the function of your foot, and reduce the pain
you’re experiencing. But because the treatments for lumps can vary so much,
it’s best to talk to your podiatrist before attempting to treat it
yourself. The good news is that, unlike the lumpy oatmeal you had to eat
every morning as a kid, there’s no reason why lumpy feet should be a
permanent part of your life.