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 instance).
  • 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 foot.

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.