Why Do My Feet Feel Like They're Burning?
If you’re getting seemingly spontaneous waves of burning feelings in the feet - or if burning feet are keeping you awake at night - you’re definitely not alone. It can be quite alarming to feel unusual sensations that seem outside of your control - especially when you can’t pinpoint a specific cause or trigger. This is a concern from many of our patients, who aside from burning, can also feel some tingling, numbness, pins and needles, sensitivity to cold/sharp/blunt, and other altered or heightened sensations.
Feelings of burning in the feet can affect anyone, but are most common in those over 50 years. The symptoms tend to worsen at night and ease during the day - though some symptoms get worse when walking.
Nerve damage from diabetes
Diabetes can cause damage to the nerves in our feet. As our nerves are responsible for what we feel, when they become hyperactive or sensitive as a result of the damage, they can send pain and burning signals to our brain - even when we’re far from any potential source of heat.
Prolonged and excessive alcohol use can lead to a condition called alcoholic neuropathy. Damage to the peripheral nerves usually occurs first, due to the long distance the nerves need to travel from the spinal cord to the feet. It isn’t just the alcohol itself that can affect the nerves - malnutrition can develop as alcohol impairs the absorption of essential nutrients. Like diabetic neuropathy, a burning sensation is just one of many altered sensations that those affected can experience.
Certain medical conditions can also affect the nerves, even just temporarily, and result in burning sensations. These include hypothyroidism, a vitamin deficiency, kidney disease, nerve diseases like Charcot Marie Tooth, arthritis and inflammatory diseases and many more. It’s also not uncommon to experience burning in the feet a few weeks after bariatric surgery due to malabsorption of vitamin B after the surgery.
Infections & injuries
Infections and injuries can lead to burning in the feet because of the associated inflammation and swelling in the feet. When swelling in an area presses against the nerves and compresses them, it can cause a wide range of changes in sensation in the area - including burning. The same can occur if there are changes in the space between the bones where nerves run through, like in the ankle. In this case, an impingement can occur where the nerve is compressed in the narrow joint space. Interestingly, athlete’s foot can also cause itching, tingling and burning in the feet. A Morton’s neuroma, which is the inflammation of the sheath around a nerve in the midfoot, may also produce burning.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
Peripheral arterial disease can be a cause of impaired blood flow, which can also cause burning sensations as well as other sensation changes, which may be exacerbated by walking.
An unknown cause
If you feel like you can’t relate to any of the causes above and there is no specific explainable cause, you may need further testing. This will look at your nerve function and conduction, as well as common deficiencies that you may not be aware of.
How do I stop my feet from burning?
Stopping and preventing burning feet is done by addressing the underlying cause of compression or damage to the nerves. If it’s a specific medical condition, getting it under control, like taking thyroid medication for hypothyroidism can help manage and prevent burning in the feet.
Where there’s an infection or an injury that is causing the nerve to be compressed, managing this infection and having podiatry care for the injury or impingement will help ease the symptoms.
In some cases, like where the nerve damage is significant and permanent like it may be in diabetes, the focus must stay on preventing the symptoms from getting worse.
If the burning is ongoing and causing you significant pain and making it difficult for you to perform daily activities, pain medication or other medication may help.
At home, you may find the following to be helpful:
- Ensuring your shoes are comfortable, supportive and not too tight
- Soaking your feet in cold (not freezing) water for 15 minutes may give some temporary relief
- Avoid exposing your feet to hot temperatures
- Taking NSAID’s if your feet are inflamed or swollen
Unsure where to start?
If you’re experiencing unusual sensations in your feet - whether it’s burning or something else - and you’re unsure where to start, come in and see our experienced podiatry team here in Toowoomba & Darling Downs. We’ll help you identify the cause of the changes you’re experiencing, and can refer you for further testing if needed. If the cause is an injury or foot problem, we’ll help you manage it using our world-class treatments and services.