When you have foot problems, the simple act of walking can become an ordeal. And foot pain is a common annoyance, especially for people on their feet for long periods of time at work, those involved in activities that include running and jumping, and those who are overweight, which puts extra pressure on the feet.

Foot pain is also a frequent reason for a poorer quality of life as we age. A study published this year in the journal Gerontology found that one in five older adults has foot pain regularly. And some research suggests that older people with aching feet are more likely to also have pain in their back, hips, knees, and hands and wrists—and to exhibit signs of depression.

"When our forebears began to walk erect some 6 million years ago, little did they know the downsides of such evolutionary advancement," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser. "But the result of this abuse of our feet—whether from athletics, obesity, work, or bad footwear—has been pain and sometimes disability."

Here, the lowdown on three common foot problems, the likely causes, and how to ease the discomfort.

Skin and Nail Conditions

What the problem could be: Corns and calluses (hard, thick patches of skin caused by rubbing) are the most frequent factors in foot pain for older adults, according to a 2016 study.

A close runner-up? Nail conditions such as ingrown toenails and fungal infections.

What to do: Prevent them with footwear that fits without pinching or rubbing, and don’t go sockless. If you develop a corn or callus, your doctor can help you safely remove the extra layers of skin.

To avoid fungus, always wear footwear in public places such as locker rooms. If you notice discoloration or a thickening of your nails, a podiatrist can confirm whether it’s a fungal infection and prescribe medication.

Cutting toenails straight across and filing them at the sides to avoid jagged edges helps prevent ingrown toenails, says Jane Andersen, D.P.M., a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, N.C. If you have difficulty with this, go to a podiatrist for toenail grooming.

Bone and Joint Pain

What the problem could be: Bone deformities such as bunions (when the big-toe joint becomes misaligned) and hammertoes (when one or more smaller toes is bent at the middle) are often the cause of pain.

These may occur when footwear—especially shoes with a narrow front or a high heel—puts undue pressure on toes, says Sandra Klein, M.D., an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Washington University in St. Louis. Toe arthritis can also cause foot pain.

What to do: To prevent or ease pain caused by bunions and hammertoes, choose shoes with a round, deep toe box, Andersen says. (In severe cases, some people choose surgery.)

“For arthritis, especially of the toes, footwear with a stiffer sole helps reduce pain by keeping foot joints from having to bend so much,” Klein says.

Tingling or Numbness

What the problem could be: About a third of people with diabetes have foot numbness and tingling, according to Marian Hannan, D.Sc., a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

This is not only uncomfortable, but with numbness, wounds on the feet may also go unnoticed and untreated—and worsen.

Tingling may also signal a problem elsewhere, Klein says, such as a pinched nerve in your back.

What to do: If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for cuts and blisters, and talk with a doctor or podiatrist about care. If you don’t have diabetes, a doctor can determine whether an injury might be causing your tingling feet.

Who Should Care for Your Feet?

If your feet are bothering you, see your primary care provider, Lipman says. He or she can evaluate you and refer you to a specialist, such as one of the following:

Podiatrist: This specialist receives a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) degree after four years of podiatric medical school and three years of hospital residency. Podiatrists can prescribe orthotics, treat ingrown toenails, provide diabetic foot care, and perform surgical procedures such as bunionectomies and hammertoe repair.

Physiatrist: After medical school, these M.D.s complete four years of residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They often work with physical therapists, using nonsurgical methods to treat pain and conditions such as plantar fasciitis (usually marked by heel pain) and ankle sprains.

Orthopedic surgeon: These specialists are M.D.s with five years of residency, usually in general and orthopedic surgery. They can offer surgical treatments for foot problems such as clubfoot, tendon pain, and fractures.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2017 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.