If your feet feel uncomfortably warm or hot and tingle, it could mean that the nerves in your foot are damaged. Among the possible causes are various diseases, such as diabetes mellitus. But what else could be behind it? What can be done to relieve burning feet?
What is burning feet syndrome?
People who complain of burning feet do not usually mean that their feet are on fire, but rather that they hurt differently: It is a tingling or stabbing pain, mostly accompanied by a feeling of warmth or heat.
Specialists sometimes refer to the phenomenon as burning feet syndrome. However, a numbness and tingling sensation in the feet is also possible. The symptoms are typically more intense at night and subside somewhat during the day. It can be limited to a burning sensation in the feet and soles but may also radiate to the ankles and the dorsum of the feet or lower legs.
In addition, other symptoms and accompanying symptoms are possible, Depending on the condition behind Burning Feet Syndrome:
- Chronic sleep problems with increased fatigue during the day
- Stomach pain
- Muscular tension
- Itching on the feet but also all over the body
- Sensitivity to touch
- Profuse sweating or increased sweat production
- Susceptibility to infections
- Anaemia (anemia)
- Depressive mood
Those who suffer from such symptoms should have themselves examined by a doctor. This is the only way to diagnose a possible disease and treat it accordingly.
Causes of burning feet syndrome
Feet burning is usually an indication that the nerves in the feet are damaged, crushed or undersupplied. Potential causes include:
- Tight shoes in combination with overloading of the feet (for example, due to a long walk)
- Thickening of the nerves in the area of the metatarsal bone, caused by repeated pressure (Morton’s neuralgia)
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome (constriction of a nerve on the inside of the foot, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Complex regional pain syndrome (rare condition that can occur, for instance, following surgery, a soft-tissue injury, or a broken bone)
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome (rare hereditary disease associated with progressive nerve damage in the limbs)
- Sinus tarsi syndrome (a rare syndrome in which specific structures on the outside of the foot are pinched)
- Erythromelalgia (a rare condition associated with seizure-like burning pain, redness, and heat on the hands and feet; the skin also appears fiery red, sensitive to touch, very warm)
- Inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitides), disease sarcoidosis (rare inflammatory systemic disease)
- Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare disease of the nerves with sudden onset of weakness and pain in the limbs)
- Some drugs have burning feet syndrome as a side effect
- Contact allergy to ingredients of shoes or socks (typical is a burning or tingling sensation in the feet)
- Magnesium deficiency or vitamin deficiency (vitamin B5 deficiency (pantothenic acid) often goes hand in hand with burning feet)
Polyneuropathy and Burning Feet Syndrome
Specialists refer to polyneuropathy as damage to the nervous system often caused by alcoholism, cancers, or contact with certain heavy metals and toxins. Often, burning pains occur mainly at night or intensify at night or when the patient is lying down.
Polyneuropathy can also develop, for instance, as a consequence of diabetes mellitus: If blood sugar levels remain permanently elevated, this can cause damage to the peripheral nerves. These include all the body’s nerves, except for those of the brain and spinal cord. However, in the beginning, polyneuropathy is mainly manifested by pain in the feet.
Occlusive peripheral arterial disease as a cause
The peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAVK), a blood circulation disorder in the arms and legs usually caused by arteriosclerosis, may also be behind the burning feet syndrome. The peripheral arterial occlusive disease causes pain initially, particularly during the day, when those affected move around.
Since the arteries of the legs and arms are narrowed, they can no longer transport sufficient blood to the muscles and nerves. The muscles and nerves are consequently less well supplied with oxygen and nutrients, which affects their function. This becomes particularly noticeable when the muscles are strained – when walking, for instance.
Burning feet syndrome due to MS and HIV
Other diseases can also cause burning or stabbing pain in the feet. Among these are multiple sclerosis (MS) or infections such as HIV. These diseases, though, are almost always noticeable through other symptoms. The typical first signs of MS include visual disturbances and numbness and tingling sensations. HIV infection is often initially manifested by an increased susceptibility to infections.
Burning feet: When you should seek medical advice
People who regularly suffer from burning, prickling feet, or other symptoms should seek medical advice. What treatment will help in the long term depends on the cause.
The first point of contact may be the family doctor’s office to make an initial assessment of where the pain is coming from. If appropriate, a referral to a suitable specialist may be made to discuss further diagnosis and treatment.
Burning feet diagnosis
The medical examination begins with a detailed anamnesis, in which the exact symptoms and possible previous illnesses are clarified. Furthermore, potential skin changes and foot malpositions are of interest, as are the reflexes of the legs and the pulse in the feet. The muscular strength of various muscle groups and possible tension is also checked.
A blood sample is also usually taken to check blood sugar levels, for example, thyroid function or certain vitamins. If there is a suspicion of an underlying disease, the patient is examined further or referred to specialist practice.
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Burning feet: Treatment
Treatment initially involves getting to grips with the cause of the discomfort. If there is a contact allergy to substances in footwear or socks, they should be changed. Dr may also prescribe antiallergic medication (antihistamines).
With diabetes, specific medications are often needed to lower blood sugar levels and keep them stable. When alcoholism has damaged the nervous system, sufferers should go through withdrawal.
If the cause is a peripheral arterial occlusive disease, patients should pay attention to a healthier lifestyle. Furthermore, specific medications are prescribed to counteract the damage to the blood vessels and improve blood flow.
In case of a vitamin deficiency, the physician usually prescribes appropriate preparations to treat it. In addition, a foot bath with lukewarm water can sometimes relieve burning pain in the feet. Cold water should not be used, however.
If burning in the feet does not subside, the physician may prescribe a painkiller. Patches and/or ointments can also help in some cases (for example, with lidocaine or capsaicin).