You probably don’t give much thought to the health of your feet — until they start to ache. Here’s everything you need to know about foot pain.

Your feet have a total of 52 bones, 66 joints and more than 200 muscles, tendons and ligaments between them — and there are about as many reasons your feet may hurt.

Here are six common misconceptions about foot pain:

Myth: All foot pain is caused by poorly fitting shoes.

Yes, foot pain, both temporary and chronic, can be caused by shoes that don’t fit correctly — as anyone who has had the misfortune to wear a pair of too-tight shoes already knows. But there are a number of medical reasons your feet might hurt that go beyond blisters and calluses, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, foot injuries and gout.

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Myth: Being overweight doesn’t affect my feet.

Carrying around extra pounds, even as few as 25, does indeed affect the health of your feet, and it does so in two ways. First off, extra pounds put added pressure on your feet, upping the risk of developing osteoarthritis, tendon inflammation and inflammation of the plantar fascia, the tough band of tissue on the sole of your foot. Secondly, being overweight increases your risk of developing diseases that can affect your feet, including diabetes, gout and peripheral arterial disease.

Myth: I can never wear high heels if I have foot pain.

While it’s true that high heels increase foot pain and regular wear can cause bunions, you don’t have to swear them off forever. But you do need to be smart about the pair you wear and how long you wear them for. Opt for a lower, wider heel that provides a more secure base for your foot and ankle and don’t wear them for more than a few hours a day.

Myth: I shouldn’t wear shoes if I think I have a foot sprain.

In fact, going barefoot or wearing flip-flops can make a sprain worse because you need the added support of a stable and protective shoe with a stiffer sole for your foot to heal. In addition, you should try to keep your injured foot elevated as much as possible to ease swelling and apply ice for 20 minutes two to three times a day.

Myth: Plantar warts are harmless.

While plantar warts are caused by a virus and aren’t cancerous, they can cause a significant amount of pain, depending on where they are on your foot. See your dermatologist for treatment of any uncomfortable warts that don’t clear up on their own.

Myth: There is no treatment for foot pain.

There are many ways to treat foot pain, including shoe inserts and custom orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications and surgery, but the first step is seeing your doctor for diagnosis.

“An orthopaedic doctor provides insight into what specific behavior is behind your issue, then makes suggestions to resolve the problem,” said Eric Tan, MD, assistant professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a foot and ankle expert at Keck Medicine of USC. “This can include shoe inserts designed to correct your specific foot issue.”

By Anne Fritz

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