Burning Feet – Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Home Remedies

Medically Reviewed By: DR. SURAJEET KUMAR PATRA, MBBS, MD, FDIAB January 7, 2022

A burning feeling in the feet occurs due to nerve damage in the legs. It is often called neuropathy. Even though, many health problems can trigger burning feet. Diabetes is the most common cause. Most burning feet treatments concentrate upon:

  • preventing extra nerve damage.
  • lowering down the painful sensation.

Burning Feet - Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Home Remedies

Burning feet occurs due to nerve damage. Nerve damage which is often associated with diabetes. There are other causes as well. Burning feet pain might be irregular or constant. And, it can be mild, moderate, or severe. Feet may feel hot, itchy, tingling, or numb. The pain can get worse at night. Treatment for burning feet depends upon the underlying cause. Keep on reading to understand the causes of burning feet. Also, how can be person manage this issue.

Also Read: HbA1c Test

Different Causes of Burning Feet

Wide range of conditions are responsible for burning feet. It is must to determine its cause, so that a person can receive treatment. Reasons like foot fungus (athlete’s foot) or too tight shoes can be remedied easily. The cause may also remain unknown in other cases.

Diabetic neuropathy

Uncontrolled high glucose levels might slowly damage the nerves and blood vessels. High blood glucose lessens the movement of signals from the nerves. This might affect sensation to several body organs such as feet. Also, high glucose weakens the walls of blood vessels. These carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.

The nerve damage might take place all over the body. About 60-70% of diabetics suffer from nerve damage, or neuropathy. The risk for neuropathy may increase if a person:

  • is obese
  • smoke cigarettes
  • has hypertension
  • drink alcohol

Peripheral neuropathy is when the nerve damage occurs in the legs and feet. This is the most common form of diabetic neuropathy. This condition may result in burning feet. Less often, peripheral neuropathy might influence the arms and hands.

More signs of peripheral neuropathy can be:

  • sharp, piercing pains
  • numbness or prickly sensation in hands or feet
  • faintness or heavy feeling in legs or arms
  • sensation like a person is wearing tight sock
  • too much sweating

Discuss with a doctor in case of any such signs of neuropathy. Controlling the levels of blood glucose prevents nerve damage or slows its course.

Heavy alcohol intake

Heavy alcohol intake may cause a type of nerve damage named alcoholic neuropathy. Along with burning feet, signs can be:

  • drowsiness
  • muscle spasms
  • muscle weakness
  • impaired speech
  • loss of muscle function
  • urinary and bowel impairment

Stopping the use of alcohol helps in preventing such signs. Yet, some nerve damage might be irreversible.

Athlete’s foot

It is an infectious fungal infection seen in athletes. Athlete’s foot is also called tinea pedis. Also, it can affect the toenails and hands.

Common signs of athlete’s foot may include:

  • burning or itchy feeling between the toes or on the feet soles
  • itchy blisters on the feet
  • raw skin on the feet
  • dry skin on the sides or soles of the feet
  • cracking and peeling skin between the toes
  • toes appearing stained, thick, and brittle

Kidney disorders

When kidneys stop working properly, toxins accumulate in the blood. This may cause inflammation and irritation in the feet. It may also give rise to:

  • nausea
  • coma
  • weakness
  • decreased urine output
  • confusion
  • convulsions
  • unexplained breathing difficulty

Small fiber sensory neuropathy (SFSN)

It is a painful neuropathy resulting in painful burning in the feet. Other signs can be:

  • loss of feeling in the feet
  • short bursts of pain

It may occur due to loss of the myelin sheath. This sheath covers and protects nerve fibers.

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

This condition occurs in a limb, mostly after surgical procedure or an injury. In this, nerve damage may occur affecting the transmission from the brain and spine. Signs can be:

  • burning pain
  • inflammation
  • changes in skin color or texture

This condition may influence the immune system as well. Genetics may also affect it.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

It involves narrowing of the arteries. These arteries carry blood to the legs and feet. Signs are similar as that of peripheral neuropathy. Burning feet and legs are most common. Walking or exercising may produce pain.

Erythromelalgia

Erythromelalgia is a comparatively rare illness. This involves red, hot, and painful feet and the cause remains unknown. The severity of the illness may vary from person to person. Pain might worsen after:

  • walking
  • exercising
  • standing
  • exposure to heat

Not enough Vitamin B12

Nerves need this vitamin to stay healthy. A person might not get enough from food. If a person is vegan, this vitamin might lack. Vitamin B12 absorption does not occur if a person is:

  • older
  • has had weight loss surgery like gastric bypass
  • alcoholic

These vitamin B deficiencies (B12, thiamine, folate, etc.) may result in burning feet and muscle coordination issues. Anemia is a condition marked by a deficiency in healthy RBCs. It might also occur due to vitamin B deficiencies. Other signs of vitamin deficiency anemia can be:

  • drowsiness
  • weakness
  • breathing problem

Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid alters the hormonal balance in the body. This may result in inflammation putting pressure on the nerves. Signs can include:

  • burning feet
  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • weight gain

Infectious diseases

Burning feet is one of the many signs of various infections, such as:

  • syphilis
  • shingles
  • Lyme disease
  • HIV

Get tested in case of infection and burning in feet.

Toxin exposure

Exposure to heavy metals and other chemicals over long time cause peripheral neuropathy. Medicines for treating conditions (HIV or seizures) may also produce nerve damage.

Chemotherapy

Therapeutic chemicals (that kill cancer cells) might exert side effects. These can be peripheral neuropathy. Other nervous and muscular systems side effects of chemotherapy may include:

  • pain
  • slowed down reflexes or motor skills
  • muscle weakness
  • balance and coordination problems
  • tired, achy, or shaky feeling in the muscles

Diagnosing burning in feet

Visit a healthcare provider if a person experiences painful, burning feet.

Doctor would first conduct a physical assessment. A physical assessment may show:

  • fungal infection
  • structural problems in feet or legs
  • reflexes
  • lack of sensation
  • reddened or pale skin

Doctor would then ask a person about:

  • his or her medical history
  • medicines being taken
  • when the signs occur
  • history of heavy drinking
  • how long the signs last

Doctor would likely test for diabetes. As, diabetes is one of the most common reasons for burning feet. Also, he or she might order blood tests for:

  • thyroid hormone
  • kidney working
  • lack of vitamins
  • HIV
  • other infections

The doctor may look at a person’s shoes. Also, they may tell a person to walk to see if they are tight or ill-fitting. Also, the doctor may ask about any other signs. This helps in determining any infection or injury.

Tests that can be done

  • EMG test: It is a test of muscle function. This employs recordings of electrical activity inside the muscles. Place a probe on the skin, or insert a needle into the muscle for this test.
  • Lab tests. Test of blood, urine or spinal fluid helps to diagnose the cause of burning feet. Check the vitamin levels using a simple blood test.
  • Nerve conduction study. This tests the capacity of nerves to carry impulses. In this, stimulate the nerve first. Then, take a measurement of a response in the muscle controlled by that nerve.
  • Nerve biopsy. Very rarely, it is done. Cut down a part of nerve tissue and examine it under a microscope.

Treatment options for burning feet

Underlying cause considerably determines the treatment for burning feet. Often, treatment can be direct. A person might require:

  • more comfortable shoes
  • corrective inserts for shoes
  • an antifungal for athlete’s foot
  • thyroid supplements
  • vitamin B supplements

A diabetic person might require a diet or medication change. The doctor may also recommend medications to assist in nerve pain. For serious nerve pain, nerve stimulation can assist. These can be:

  • magnetic therapy
  • light therapy
  • electrical nerve stimulation
  • laser therapy

Alternative treatments like acupuncture can also be a great help.

Home remedies for pain relief

Few things may help for temporarily relieving pain:

  • Soak feet in cold water or ice baths for some minutes. It is, however, not suggested for individuals having erythromelalgia. It might damage their skin.
  • Take a turmeric supplement. Curcumin present in turmeric delivers relief for nerve pain. Curcumin provides protective anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects. It may also help in neurological signs.
  • Soak feet in Epsom salts or an apple cider solution. A diabetic person must speak to a doctor before trying this remedy.
  • Massage the feet to improve blood flow and circulation.
  • Apply a topical cream consisting of lidocaine or capsaicin. A homemade ginger or turmeric solution might function as well. A lidocaine patch is also effective in relieving pain from erythromelalgia.

Summary 

Burning feet may result in pain ranging from:

  • mild to severe
  • acute to chronic

It becomes vital to discuss with a doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause. If nerve damage is the cause, it might be permanent. However, proper treatments are available to avoid any added damage.

Burning feet might indicate a more severe medical condition. These conditions can be diabetes, malnutrition, or peripheral nerve damage. Undiagnosed or unmanaged diabetes might cause irreversible damage to the peripheral nerves. It is good to reverse your diabetes, so as to minimize the risks of burning feet. Breathe Well-being is one such “NATURAL DIABETES REVERSAL PLATFORM”. We are here to get you going with our customized nutrition plans, 1-1 sessions on diet and exercises with expert coaches and dieticians. Many diabetic patients have reversed their condition after losing 22 pounds of weight. This is very inspiring, isn’t it!

FAQs:

How can you keep your feet cool at night?

There are some ways by which a person can cool down hot feet at night. A person can:

  1. keep an ice bucket along the bed
  2. place feet in it when they get hot
  3. freeze socks and wear them on feet while sleeping

Why does diabetic neuropathy get worse at night?

At night, the body temperature varies and drops a bit. Many individuals tend to sleep in a cooler room too. Damaged nerves may read the temperature alterations as pain or tingling. And, this increases the feeling of neuropathy.

What foods are not good for neuropathy?

Foods that have the potential to increase pain in neuropathy can be:

  1. citrus fruits
  2. corn
  3. caffeine
  4. nuts
  5. eggs
  6. dairy products
  7. wheat
  8. meat of all types

How long can diabetic neuropathy go away?

In focal neuropathy, the pain onset is sudden and intense. It generally affects the nerves or group of nerves. These nerves can be present in the head, torso, or legs. However, focal neuropathy signs generally go away in some weeks.

Why does diabetes cause burn feet?

Diabetes and hypertension are the most common causes of burning feet. Kidneys slowly stop functioning the right way. That accumulates wastes in the body. And, can result in nerve damage (uremic neuropathy), like feet, result in burn.
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References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/burning-feet-causes-treatments
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/burning-in-feet#outlook
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17773-burning-feet-syndrome-grierson-gopalan-syndrome

Disclaimer

The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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