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What Causes Stiff Feet?

Ron Marr
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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

How To Relieve Stiff Feet

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

There are many possible reasons your feet may be stiff, and if you want to relieve the discomfort you feel, you can try several remedies. You may find that stiffness remedies vary depending upon the condition that causes you to have stiff feet. Try the following techniques to find a combination that works to relieve the stiffness in your feet:

  • Gentle exercise
  • Foot strengthening exercises
  • Foot massage
  • Arch supports
  • New shoes
  • Pain relievers
  • Ice
  • Warm foot baths

Why Is It Important To Relieve Stiff Feet?

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

Stiff feet may seem like a minor inconvenience, but they can have severe consequences if they are not treated properly. When your feet are stiff, you may have limited mobility because you can't move them the way you need to. Furthermore, stiffness in your feet can cause joint and muscle problems. When minor stiffness starts to affect your muscles and joints, it can lead to bigger problems and chronic health conditions.

How Often Should You Relieve Stiff Feet?

You may find that practicing certain techniques daily reduces the amount of stiffness you feel in your feet. Foot strengthening exercises and stretches can keep your muscles relaxed and your joints lubricated so that you feel little stiffness on a regular basis. If you still feel stiff every day, you should try to relieve the stiffness in your feet whenever you feel it.

Why Are My Feet Stiff in the Morning?

Feet sometimes feel stiff in the morning because you haven't used them all night. A lack of lubrication and lost cartilage can cause feet to be stiff until you get up and start walking in the morning. If you have no pain with the stiffness, there is no cause for alarm. However, there are several other conditions that could cause your feet to be stiff when you wake up. If you have any of the following conditions, you may need to seek out the guidance of a doctor:

  • Plantar fasciitis 
  • Arthritis
  • Vitamin deficiency 

How Do You Know When You Need Help for Stiff Feet?

When foot stiffness decreases when you start moving around in the morning, the stiffness is likely due to age and does not need intervention. If you feel pain with the stiffness or the stiffness persists throughout the day, it may be time to look for an underlying condition that may be causing the pain.

What Can You Do To Prevent Foot Stiffness in the Morning?

Foot strengthening exercises and stretches before bed can reduce the likelihood of feeling stiff in the morning. If your stiffness is caused by a vitamin deficiency, taking a Vitamin D or magnesium supplement before bed can keep your muscles and joints relaxed. Some people also sleep in ankle braces to help reduce foot stiffness in the morning. Your doctor may prescribe medication or suggest equipment and exercises for you to use each night to help you sleep better and reduce the risk of you waking up with stiff feet in the morning.

Why Are My Feet Stiff After Sitting?

Your feet may become stiff after you sit for a while. The less you move around, the less lubrication flows through your joints. This can cause your feet to feel stiff any time you sit in one place for several hours. The same conditions that can cause you to feel stiff every morning can also cause you to feel stiff after sitting.

How Can You Reduce Stiffness After Sitting?

The best way to prevent stiffness after sitting in one spot for a while is to move around periodically. Stand up and move around for a few minutes every hour to keep your foot muscles and joints from locking up. If the stiffness is caused by disuse, moving around frequently can often prevent stiffness. If you're unable to move around regularly, it may help to practice small foot-strengthening exercises to keep your joints and muscles loosed and strong. This may keep your muscles from being stiff when you get up.

How Often Should I have Stiff Feet?

Most people develop some stiffness in their feet as they age. If you feel stiff every morning or every time you sit still for a while but the problem gets better when you move around, there is no reason to be concerned. However, if the stiffness is accompanied by pain or doesn't go away with movement, you may have an underlying condition such as arthritis. You should speak with your doctor about ways to manage the stiffness and see if you need medication or not.

Stiff Feet and Plantar Fasciitis

Many times, stiff feet are due to chronic inflammation caused by a variety of other health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, high stress levels, a sedentary lifestyle, or a poor diet. However, there are situations where stiff feet are a direct result of an injury to or issue with the feet themselves. One of the most common of these is plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for the inflammation of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, known as the plantar fascia. It joins the toes to the heel and acts as a shock absorber for the body when running and walking. While it's a very durable and resilient type of tissue, it can be prone to tears and overstretching, which can lead to inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Athletes, specifically those who run, are the most prone to plantar fasciitis, but it can happen to anyone, especially those who are highly active or are significantly overweight. It is most common among adults between the ages of 40 and 60.

Plantar fasciitis can cause stiff feet in the morning or after standing still for extended periods of time. Movement tends to help relieve this stiffness and discomfort gradually, but it can be painful at times. It can take months for plantar fasciitis to heal, so it's important to care for your feet, take steps to reduce inflammation, and follow your doctor's recommendations to treat this condition, which may include:

  • Wearing a different type of supportive shoe
  • Using a brace, splint, boot, or crutches
  • Exercising and stretching the area as instructed on a routine basis
  • Utilizing physical therapy to treat and strengthen the area
  • Taking the recommended medications to promote healing and reduce pain

When to See a Doctor About Stiff Feet

Stiff feet after sitting happen to most people at some point in time and are generally no cause for concern. However, there are situations where it may be prudent to see a doctor for evaluation. If you have an underlying condition, such as diabetes, arthritis, or lupus, be sure to talk to a medical professional if and when this symptom arises. You should also seek treatment if your foot stiffness occurs after a recent injury that was not evaluated by a doctor, or if the stiffness is related to new, chronic, or worsening swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

Exercises and Stretches for Stiff Feet

If you want to know how to relieve stiff feet quickly and easily, give these simple exercises a try.

  • While seated, lift one leg at a time and use your big toe to trace circles in the air, pivoting at the ankle. Complete 15 to 20 circles before switching directions. Repeat with the other foot.
  • Stand in a slight lunge and press the toes of the back foot into the ground while lifting the heel, stretching out the bottom of the foot. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds before switching.
  • Place a small towel on the floor and try to grasp it five times with one foot, curling your toes to draw it towards you. Repeat with the other foot.

Remember to consult with a physician before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have an injury in this area.

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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    • High heels can cause stiff feet.
      By: Meffista
      High heels can cause stiff feet.
    • Stiff feet may be caused from arthritis.
      By: acnaleksy
      Stiff feet may be caused from arthritis.
    • Rheumatoid arthritis can cause bunions as well as stiff feet.
      Rheumatoid arthritis can cause bunions as well as stiff feet.
    • A podiatrist may be consulted to determine the cause of stiff feet.
      By: Jeffrey Banke
      A podiatrist may be consulted to determine the cause of stiff feet.
    • Applying ice to a sore heel may provide pain relief.
      By: Lovrencg
      Applying ice to a sore heel may provide pain relief.