Since our feet are subject to so much stress, it’s inevitable that ligaments, joints, and tendons will experience problems that lead to pain. Occasionally, the source of foot pain is purely nerve-related and is caused either by direct irritation of a nerve, or by health conditions that lead to nerve damage. When nerves are irritated or damaged, there is a characteristic burning, shooting, or stabbing pain that occurs. The pain will often occur spontaneously, even while at rest. Sometimes the area over the affected nerve may be very sensitive to the touch.
Common Nerve Problems That Cause Foot Pain
- Morton’s Neuroma: A Morton’s neuroma is a benign thickening of the nerve that runs between the third and fourth toes. Typical symptoms include a burning or shooting pain in the area between the third and fourth toes, most often with walking. Another common symptom is a vague feeling of pressure beneath the toes, as if a sock was bunched-up underneath them, arch supports, and cortisone injections to decrease nerve inflammation.
- Pinched Nerve: Also known as nerve entrapment, a pinched nerve can occur at various regions of the foot. A nerve entrapment is frequently caused by trauma, such as pressure created by swelling, excess pressure from a tight shoe, or blunt trauma. Nerve entrapment may cause shooting, burning pain or sensitivity on the top of the foot.
- Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: The chronic high blood sugar associated with diabetes can lead to a form of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy. It is estimated that one in four diabetics will experience painful neuropathy. Like other forms of nerve damage, neuropathy pain is characterized by spontaneous burning or shooting pain in the feet. It often occurs at night while sleeping. The pain of neuropathy may come and go over the course of the disease and may be accompanied by a gradual loss of feeling in the feet that begins in the toes and progresses upward.
- Other Causes of Painful Neuropathy: Damage to nerves and the resulting pain symptoms can occur with many other conditions. Some examples include:
- Physical trauma, such as after surgery or an accident
- Drugs such as certain cancer drugs, antiviral drugs, or antibiotics
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
- Tumors that compress a nerve
- Liver or kidney disease
- Vitamin deficiencies
- A herniated disc in the lumbar spine
- Infectious diseases such as complications from Lyme disease or viral infections
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