Nerve pain in foot is a fairly common problem and it may be characterized as:
Nerve pain in the foot is caused by damage to the nerve somewhere along its path from the spine down to the foot. This is usually either from an:
Nerves are responsible for carrying messages telling muscles how and when to work, providing information on different sensations such as hot and cold as well as controlling various bodily functions.
Any amount of damage anywhere along the nerve affects its ability to carry these messages and can cause nerve pain in foot, also be known as a foot neuropathy or neuropathic pain.
Nerve pain in foot can stem from two places. A peripheral foot neuropathy is caused by damage along the course of the nerve somewhere down the leg or in the foot itself. In this case symptoms tend to be localized to the foot and possibly lower leg. The other common cause of nerve pain in foot is a problem in the lower spine. This tends to cause back, buttock and leg nerve pain as well as foot pain and weakness.
(Great picture from here)The nervous system is made up of two systems,
There are three types of nerves in our bodies:
Damage to the nerves causes them to behave abnormally. They may stop sending messages altogether (e.g. causing numbness or weakness) or to fire erratically, sending excessive or incorrect signals (e.g. causing pain or pins and needles).
Foot Neuropathy from Spinal Problems
Nerve pain in the foot often comes from a problem in the back, rather than in the foot itself. At the base of the spine, five nerves (L4, 5, S1, 2 &3) exit the spine and join together to form the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. The sciatic nerve travels down through the buttock and the back of the leg, branching out as it spreads further down through the leg and into the foot.
If the sciatic nerve is squashed anywhere along its path, it interrupts the signals traveling up and down the nerves to the spinal cord resulting in pain, weakness, tingling or numbness anywhere in the leg and down in to the foot.
The two most common problems in the lower back that can damage the sciatic nerve and thus cause nerve pain in foot are:
1) Herniated Disc (aka Slipped Disc)
Between most of the vertebrae in our back there are discs. If these get squashed, some of the material from the middle of the disc (the nucleus) gets pushed out of the back of the disc, irritating and/or squashing the nerve root. Think of it like a jam donut, where the donut represents the disc, and the jam represents the nucleus. When you squeeze a donut, the jam leaks out the back, sticking to whatever it touches.
The most common symptoms of this are:
In most cases, it settles down within a few weeks with a combination of rest, exercises and medication. However, in a few cases, it can be a medical emergency.
2. Spinal stenosis is another possible cause of nerve pain in foot. It develops due to narrowing of the gaps in the spine where the spinal cord and nerves run.
The most common symptoms of spinal stenosis in the lower back are burning foot pain and cramp. Symptoms tend to ease when you sit down or bend forward, so people with spinal stenosis often find it easier walking uphill than on the flat or downhill as you naturally bend forwards slightly.
Spinal stenosis can be caused by the following:
Nerve pain in the foot from spinal stenosis is usually linked with aging, most commonly affecting people over the age of 50. In severe cases, surgery may be indicated.
3. Peripheral neuropathy is a problem with the nerves that carry messages to and from the spinal cord and brain. It most commonly causes problems in the extremities i.e. hands and feet. Peripheral neuropathy can come on:
If one nerve is affected it is known as mononeuropathy, if more than one nerve is affected it is referred to as polyneuropathy.
The damage from peripheral neuropathy can cause:
Symptoms usually affect both feet, rather than just one and may come and go or gradually progress.
There are a number of different causes of nerve pain in foot from peripheral neuropathy.
In approximately 30% of cases of peripheral neuropathy, the cause is idiopathic – of unknown origin
When Is Nerve Pain in Foot Serious?
Any incidence of nerve pain in foot should be assessed by your doctor. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately as these symptoms constitute a medical emergency:
These are usually linked with a problem in the spine rather than a peripheral foot neuropathy.