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THE feet that burn, or burning feet syndrome, represent a condition that can derive from various conditions, not always pathological.
In our in-depth study, we will try to understand which are the most common determinants and, finally, how to identify the best treatment.
Causes of burning feet
Let's start with a brief overview of causes of burning feet, which typically include:
- nerve damage. There are many possible causes of nerve damage. It can occur due to various diseases, back injuries or degenerative changes in the spine, surgery, use of chemotherapy or other drugs, or exposure to toxins;
- peripheral neuropathy. It is one of the most common causes of burning feet syndrome. It occurs when the peripheral sensory nerves that connect the spinal cord to the extremities are deteriorated. People who have had diabetes for a long time, or those with poorly controlled blood glucose levels, are more likely to develop peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy develops gradually and can worsen over time. Other conditions that can cause peripheral neuropathy include chemotherapeutic agents, hereditary diseases, autoimmune disorders (including rheumatoid arthritis), exposure to toxic chemicals, infections, kidney failure, alcoholism and nutritional imbalances (vitamin B deficiency, malabsorption syndrome);
- tarsal tunnel syndrome. The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space inside the ankle near the ankle bones. Compression of the posterior tibial nerve (the nerve behind the long, larger bone in the lower leg) within the tarsal tunnel can cause burning, tingling, or painful sensations in parts of the feet. The inner ankles and calves of the legs can also be affected;
- Morton's neuroma. Nerve tissue can thicken between the bones at the base of the toes, causing pain. Shoes that are too tight can cause this type of neuroma, although it can also result from sports injury, stress, or abnormal foot position or movement.
- complex regional pain syndrome. This rare, but extremely painful nerve disorder, can occur after an injury or surgery;
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder. This inherited neurological disorder can cause damage to the peripheral nerves of the legs and feet. The damage worsens over time, affecting the muscles and nerves of the extremities resulting in abnormal weakness and lifting of the arches of the feet. Abnormal stresses on the feet can predispose to stress fractures, and these individuals often require support to function properly.
- endocrine or metabolic disorders, such as diabetes mellitus or hypothyroidism;
- infections, such as athlete's foot (tinea pedis);
- other causes, such as erythromelalgia / erythermalgia, use of shoes that are too tight or do not fit well, stress due to physical exercise or physical injury, allergies, contact dermatitis.
Symptoms of burning feet
Having clarified the main causes of this condition, let's try to understand what the most common symptoms of burning feet syndrome.
The most common symptoms are:
- sensations of heat or burning, which often worsen at night;
- numbness of the feet or legs;
- sharp or stabbing pain;
- feeling of heaviness in the feet;
- dull pain in the feet;
- redness of the skin or excess heat;
- itching or tingling.
Read also: Winter foot ache and bone pain
The diagnosis of burning feet
Considering that there are no tests to objectively measure the intensity of foot pain or burning, the doctor will try to determine the underlying cause of the symptoms manifested with:
- physical examination. Your doctor will ask about your medical history, including any physical symptoms you have and any medications you are taking. He will examine the reflexes and examine the feet to check for signs of infection, injury or other problems;
- blood tests. Tests may be ordered to measure blood glucose or to check for nutritional deficiencies or endocrine disorders. A complete blood count is usually done. Other laboratory work may include serum and urine electrolytes (magnesium, sodium, potassium, vitamin B and chloride levels);
- other tests, such as nerve function tests, electromyography, nerve conduction velocity tests.
Treatment of burning feet syndrome
The treatment it depends on the underlying causes or conditions.
In particular, an initial "self-care" treatment may be recommended, soaking the feet in cold water for at least 15 minutes, avoiding exposing the feet to heat, lifting the legs and feet, taking over-the-counter pain relievers (analgesics), and more applying non-prescription topical creams and ointments.
If all of this is not enough, prescription drugs such as insulin or oral hypoglycemic drugs may be required, which can control blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, pain relievers, dietary supplements for people with vitamin deficiencies , antidepressants, antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drugs, antifungal drugs.
Finally, physical therapy / exercise, dietary changes, orthoses and shoe inserts and, finally, orthopedic surgery may be recommended, only in cases that do not respond to drugs or more conservative forms of treatment.
The prevention of burning feet
There is no way to completely prevent burning feet, but it is always useful to try to schedule regular exams with a podiatrist or foot care specialist.
It is also good to choose shoes that fit correctly and that guarantee adequate ventilation, wear clean and dry socks to avoid athlete's foot, examine the feet daily to check that there are no signs of infection or injury and, in case of diabetes , proceed with the sugar control.