Burning Sensation in Feet: Causes, Treatment, Prevention, Diagnosis
Burning sensation in feet is a very common complaint, which occurs due to fatigue and overexertion. It occurs in all age groups and is a very common problem in people over 50 years of age. The medical term for burning sensation in feet is Paresthesia.1 This can be mild or severe and can be acute or chronic. Burning sensation in feet should never be ignored since it is a clinical symptom observed in some medical conditions and needs to be given appropriate medical treatment.
Overview of Burning Sensation in Feet
Burning sensation in feet is caused due to the damage of the peripheral nerves of the leg and this transmits signals of pain to the brain even when there is no injury.2
What Causes Burning Sensation in the Feet?
A number of medical conditions show symptoms of burning sensation in feet. These include:
- Peripheral Neuropathy: Peripheral nerves transmit signals from brain to the leg. However, when they are damaged, the brain transmits the message of pain even when there is no injury. This condition normally occurs in case of diabetes. It is characterized by the abnormal level of sugar in the blood causing damage to the peripheral nerves. The diabetic patients often complain about the burning feet or burning sensation in feet. Hence, it is also called Diabetic Neuropathy.
- Hypothyroidism: In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland secretes decreased amounts of thyroid hormones. This slows down all the processes in the body.3 The hands and feet extremities do not receive enough nutrients, due to which there is water retention and this gives a swollen appearance. This swelling exerts pressure on the nerves leading to the burning sensation in feet.
- Morton's Neuroma: In case there is tumor or overgrowth of soft tissue surrounding the nerves of the foot it might cause burning sensation in the feet. The presence of tumor leads to abnormal pressure on the feet. It is caused due to abnormal position of the foot, high heeled shoes and wearing of narrow shoes etc. This leads to foot pain with burning sensation.
- Peripheral Artery Disease: In this case, the presence of atherosclerosis leads to obstruction in the flow of blood through large arteries. This results in reduced blood flow to the extremities leading to the burning sensation in the feet, stenosis and muscle cramps.
- Metatarsalgia: This condition occurs due to irritation and inflammation of the bones of the foot. It is the result of overuse of feet with walking/running, wearing tight fitting footwear, wrong foot position etc. Metatarsalgia can cause burning sensation in the ball of the foot.
- Charcot-Marie Tooth Disease: It is an inherited genetic disease. Charcot-Marie tooth disease is a group of diseases that affects the peripheral nerves. There is foot drop, high foot arches and muscle weakness. Charcot-Marie tooth disease can also cause burning sensation in the feet.
- Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: This condition involves compression of the tibial nerve in the tarsal tunnel on the inner side of the feet and ankle. The compression occurs due to tumor, swelling and cysts present at this site. Tarsal tunnel syndrome results in burning foot pain, tingling sensation and numbness.
- Erythromelalgia: It's a rare neuromuscular disease in which the blood vessels are blocked. There is redness of feet with swelling and burning foot pain.
- Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome: The dysfunction and over-sensitization of the nervous system leads to this chronic and progressive disorder called chronic regional pain syndrome, where peripheral nerves transmit wrong signals to the central nervous system. It is the one of the most painful form of long term pain. It is characterized by constant burning sensation in the feet that is intense and lasts longer than the initial injury. Burning foot pain or burning sensation in the feet is accompanied with redness, swelling, stiffness and affects moods.
- Burning Feet Syndrome: In this case, there is damage to the small nerve fibres present in the foot. There is often no clear cause; although, it is thought to be linked with vitamin B deficiency, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, abnormal foot biomechanics and renal failure. It is also thought that burning feet syndrome has a genetic basis. The burning sensation in the feet is generally on the soles of the feet; however, sometimes it can also spread up towards the lower leg and is worse during night-time.
- Vasculitis: In some cases the blood circulation may get affected due to inflammation of the blood vessels and is called as vasculitis. In this condition, the immune system attacks the blood vessels and causes inflammation. This can cause burning sensation in the feet along with pain.
- Hypertension: In this case, high blood pressure can cause burning sensation in the feet. Hypertension can also cause decreased circulation resulting in changes in skin color, reduced pulse rate in the feet and reduced temperature in the extremities along with a burning sensations.
There are a number of other causes which can lead to burning sensation in the feet such as alcoholism, chronic kidney diseases, Athlete's foot (a fungal infection), infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease, Vitamin B12 deficiency, accumulation of toxins and chemotherapy.
Other Symptoms Associated with Burning Sensation in Feet
- Tingling sensation
- Increased sweating
- Dull ache
- Increased sensation of temperature
These additional symptoms are indicative of a warning sign that it is more serious a medical condition that one is encountering.
Diagnosis of Burning Sensation in Feet
- The doctor performs physical examination and analyses the recorded medical history.
- X-rays and other imaging tests such as CT-scan, MRI scan might be used to rule out soft tissue masses, nerve entrapment, injuries, and trauma.
- Nerve tests such as Electromyography and nerve conduction study are done to check the transmission capacity of the nerves.
- Skin samples are taken to check the skin condition such as athlete's foot which causes skin to burn.
- Blood tests are done to check for diabetes and arthritis.
Treatment of Burning Sensation in Feet
The doctor ascertains the cause of burning sensation in feet and devises a treatment plan based on the condition and cause. The treatment plan for includes:
- Home Remedies for Burning Sensation in Feet: These include simple remedies that can be done to reduce burning sensation in feet like:
- Wearing proper footwear
- Wearing cotton socks to reduce sweating
- Having insoles, inserts in the shoes
- The feet should be cleaned in cool water
- Application of creams and ointments
- The daily intake of Vitamin B12 should be increased
- The feet should be allowed to rest as much as possible
- One should decrease the intake of alcohol.
- Medications for Burning Sensation in Feet: The doctor prescribes medications based on the cause to relieve burning sensation in feet. Oral medicines, ointments and creams are prescribed to relieve the symptoms.
- Surgery to Treat Burning Sensation in Feet: In case of damaged nerves, surgery is done to repair the problems in muscles, nerves, or joints or even damaged nerves.
Prevention of Burning Sensation in Feet
It is always good to prevent the medical disorder from occurring as well as to avoid it from recurrence. The following are some of the tips to prevent burning sensation in feet:
- The socks, shoes, should be changed after some time.
- The socks, shoes and feet should be allowed to dry.
- The legs should be stretched frequently to ensure blood circulation and treated with cool water.
- The feet should be allowed to rest as often as possible.
Burning sensation in the feet (Paresthesia) is an important clinical symptom of a number of medical conditions. Hence, it should not be ignored as caused due to fatigue. One should seek immediate medical help to get properly treated and to avoid problems in future.