Causes of Burning Feet
Updated March 28, 2023.
Burning feet syndrome is a medical condition characterized by severe burning and aching sensations in the feet. The burning sensation is usually worse at night and often limited to the soles of the feet. Pain may be intermittent or constant and ranging from mild to severe.
When it occurs, the feet may feel hot, tingly, prickly, or simply numb. Other symptoms of burning feet syndrome include redness of the skin, hypersensitivity, and vasomotor changes. Burning feet is a sign of nerve damage, although it can also result in fatigue or skin infection. As a result, the management of burning feet is often directed at preventing further nerve damage and relieving pain.
What Causes Burning Feet?
There are many causes of burning feet. Unfortunately, without a proper diagnosis of the cause, treatment may prove futile. Some of the most common causes include heavy alcohol intake, chemical exposure, chemotherapy, metabolic disorders, tarsal tunnel syndrome, nutritional deficiency, peripheral arterial disease, prolonged standing, tight and ill-fitting shoes, etc.
We explain each in more detail below:
An underactive thyroid results in hypothyroidism and causes a disruption in hormonal balances within the body. This can cause swelling which in turn causes nerve compression, leading to burning feet syndrome. Likewise, a case of type 1 and 2 diabetes can also cause a burning sensation in the feet.
The deficiency of vitamins B5, B-12 and E can cause a sensation of burning feet as the vitamins play a role in nerve health. For example, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that aids the functioning of the nervous system by stimulating myelin production and ensuring proper nerve conduction.
Likewise, there may be a problem with vitamin absorption after a gastric bypass. In both cases, the result is vitamin B deficiency. This leads to burning feet which can worsen if the deficiency is not handled.
Heavy Alcohol Intake
Heavy alcohol intake can result in alcoholic neuropathy characterized by burning feet. Other associated symptoms include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, loss of muscle function, urinary and bowel dysfunction, vertigo, and impaired speech.
Exposure to Chemicals
Prolonged exposure to heavy metals and many industrial chemicals can cause peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Some medications used to treat certain conditions like HIV or seizures can also have a negative effect that results in nerve damage.
Chemicals used to irradiate cancer cells may cause peripheral neuropathy as a side effect. Other neuromuscular effects of chemotherapy may include tiredness, aching, muscle sprains, slow reflexes or motor skills, and balance and coordination problems.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome refers to a condition where the nerve that runs from the ankle to the foot is squeezed because of swelling or injury. This can lead to pain and burning in the foot. The pain may extend up the leg.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
PAD presents with similar symptoms to that of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs as a result of the narrowing of the arteries in the leg and feet. This causes a burning sensation and pain in the feet.
Prolonged standing can place the feet under intense stress and lead to severe burning in the feet. This is especially true when standing is done with improper footwear that doesn’t offer enough support or cushioning to the heel.
Tight and Ill-Fitting Shoes
When you wear improper shoes, you will exert more pressure on different areas of the feet. The increase in pressure can cause nerve compression and inadvertently lead to a burning sensation in the feet.
Infections and Inflammation
Burning feet is also a symptom of many infectious diseases, including tinea pedis (Athletes' foot), Lyme disease, HIV, syphilis, and shingles.
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How Do You Know if You Have Burning Feet?
For people whose burning feet is traceable to a medical condition like diabetes, the diagnosis of burning feet is straightforward. When this is not possible, a detailed medical history is necessary to make a diagnosis. Upon presentation at the office of your doctor, the doctor will ask for a report of the history of your symptoms. That way, he will be able to determine the course of the symptoms, their progression, severity, intensity, and nature.
Afterwards, the doctor will conduct a physical examination of the feet. Any observable changes in the feet will be noted and recorded. Additional investigations may also be needed. For example, the doctor can order a blood test to identify any nutritional deficiencies or endocrinal disorder. Where nerve damage is suspected, a nerve function test may also be prescribed. Other tests that may be carried out include an electromyography, nerve conduction test, and nerve biopsy.