You can have burning feeling in your feet in two ways; either you have actually burnt them with fire, boiling hot liquid or radiation, or your feet feel like they are burning without actually being burnt. This very common feeling can range in severity from a mild burning sensation to very painful feeling that can even disturb the sleep. Sometimes numbness, pins and needles, and tingling are also experienced.
Why do Your Feet Feel Like They Are Burning?
Neuropathy or nerve damage is the most common reason of a burning sensation in feet. The damage nerves are extra sensitive and they send false signals to the brain. These signals are interpreted by the brain as pain or burning sensation, most commonly in feet.
The feet also become extra sensitive to touch, feel numb and there is a sensation of pins and needles. These symptoms can range in severity from mild to extremely severe and debilitating. The leg nerves are usually the first nerves to get affected by neuropathy.
Conditions That Can Lead to Neuropathy
The most common reasons of nerve damage in legs or peripheral neuropathy are diabetes and alcohol abuse. There are some other conditions in which the feet feel like they are burning, these include:
- Chronic kidney disease (uremia)
- Vitamin deficiency (vitamin B12, folate, and occasionally vitamin B6)
- Small fiber neuropathy
- An underactive thyroid gland and low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism)
- Lyme disease
- Amyloid polyneuropathy
- Side effect of medication like chemotherapy drugs, vitamin B6 overdose, HIV medicines, isoniazid, amiodarone, metformin, and others
- Heavy metal poisoning (lead, mercury, arsenic)
- Inflammation of blood vessels or Vasculitis
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
2. Athlete's Foot
This fungal infection of the feet can also lead to a burning sensation in the feet. There is redness, flaking and cracking of the skin and your feet may also feel very itchy. It usually occurs between the toes or the side of the feet. If your feet feel like they are burning, take your shoes and socks off and carefully inspect them, especially between the toes to see if you have got athlete's foot.
If you are feeling a lot of pain in your feet, ankles and other small joints, and there is also a burning sensation you are experiencing in your feet, you might be having arthritis. Arthritis is the inflammation of joints and there are many reasons for it. Around 90% of people with arthritis have painful feet. Associated symptoms are loss of appetite, a feeling of constant tiredness and fever. The joints can be painful to touch and there may be some redness.
4. Other Causes
Burning feet can be a symptom of Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) where the blood supply to the feet is compromised. The pain, burning and tingling sensation is due to poor circulation and can increase in intensity after or during walking.
Many people who have got gastric bypass surgeries experience a burning sensation in feet a few weeks or months after the surgery. This may be due to poor absorption of vitamins, especially vitamin B group, leading to vitamin deficiency and vitamin B deficiency is a known cause of peripheral neuropathy.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any of the following, urgent medical evaluation is advised:
- If you have been exposed to any kind of toxins and suddenly your feet feel like they are burning, or this burning feeling is sudden without any obvious cause.
- If you notice any infected wound on your feet, especially if you have diabetes.
Medical help is also advised in the following conditions but you do not need to rush to emergency and can book an appointment at the doctor's office.
- If the burning sensation is getting worse gradually and there is no improvement in your symptoms for a couple of weeks.
- It is becoming more and more painful or the severity is increasing.
- You have this feeling in your legs as well.
- There is loss of sensation in your toes.
Sometimes there is no obvious reason for this burning sensation and your doctor may prescribe further tests to determine the exact cause.
How to Deal with Burning Sensation in Feet
1. To Treat Neuropathy
The treatment of neuropathy depends on the cause of it.
- Diabetic neuropathy can be controlled by strictly keeping the blood sugar levels within normal limits. Lifestyle changes, medication and exercise play a key role in managing blood glucose levels.
- If vitamin deficiency is the reason, vitamin supplements can help to replenish the stores and ease the symptoms.
- If alcohol abuse is leading to neuropathy, the best thing is to stop excessive drinking. When the damaging factor is abolished, the nerves will gradually heal.
- Toxins accumulate in the body in chronic kidney disease and can lead to nerve damage. These can be removed with dialysis.
- Hypothyroidism can be corrected by replacing thyroid hormones.
- There are some medicines which are effective to control the burning sensation of peripheral neuropathy; these include Gabapentin (Neurontin), Desipramine (Norpramin), Amitriptyline (Elavil), etc., over the counter pain killers like Tylenol and Advil are sufficient to control mild to moderate pain while stronger pain killers like Tramadol or Opiate analgesics may be required to control severe pain.
2. To Control Athlete's Foot
Athlete's foot is a fungal infection and anti-fungal creams or sprays are effective ways to control and eradicate it. If the infection does not settle after using over-the-counter medicines like miconazole (Micatin) terbinafine (Lamisil AT), you need to see a dermatologist or doctor who may prescribe stronger anti-fungal medicines like, fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox), or naftifine (Naftin).
3. To Manage Arthritis
Arthritis is generally managed by medicines, physiotherapy and life style modifications like wearing comfortable shoes. Pain killers and disease modifying medications are sufficient to control the symptoms but sometimes steroid injections in joints are prescribed if the symptoms are severe. The last resort is joint replacement surgery.