If you’ve ever had burning feet, you know how uncomfortable it can be.
Burning feet can be caused by a number of things, from simple things like dry skin to more serious problems like nerve damage.
If you’re experiencing burning feet, it’s important to figure out what’s causing the issue and address it as soon as possible.
In some cases, burning feet can be a sign of a more serious problem, so don’t ignore the issue if it’s been bothering you for a while.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of burning feet and offer some tips on how to get relief and when to see a healthcare professional.
Causes of Burning Feet
There are many causes of burning feet, and the exact cause can vary from person to person.
Here are some of the most common causes:
Alcohol use disorder
Overuse of alcohol can lead to alcoholic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that can cause burning sensations on the feet.
The symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness, muscle spasms, and loss of muscle function
- Urinary and bowel dysfunction
- Impaired speech
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
Athlete’s foot or tinea pedis is a fungal infection caused by mold-like fungi called dermatophytes that grow in moist, warm areas of the skin.
Damp shoes and socks and humid environments allow the fungi to grow and spread.
Symptoms of an athlete’s foot may include itching, burning, and stinging between the toes and the soles of the feet.
Other symptoms include:
- Itchy blisters on the feet
- Cracking and peeling skin between the toes or on the soles of the feet
- Dry skin on the sides or soles of the feet
- Raw skin on the feet
- Toenails that pull away from the nail bed, or appear discolored, thick, and crumbly
Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease is an inherited nerve disease that affects the nerves that control muscles.
Since it is a progressive disease, the symptoms worsen over time. 1 in every 2,500 people has CMT, and it is also referred to as peroneal muscular atrophy (PMA) or hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy (HMSN).
Therapeutic chemicals used to kill cancer cells may have side effects, including peripheral neuropathy, numbness, and tingling in extremities.
Other nervous and muscular systems side effects of chemotherapy may include:
- Tired, achy, or shaky feeling in the muscles
- Slowed down reflexes or motor skills
- Balance and coordination problems
- Muscle weakness
Chronic kidney disease
When kidneys stop functioning properly, toxins build up in the blood.
This can lead to:
- Reduced urine output
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
Small fiber sensory neuropathy
Small fiber sensory neuropathy (SFSN) is a painful neuropathy that often results in painful burning in the feet.
Other symptoms include loss of feeling in the feet and short bursts of pain.
It occurs as a result of a loss of the myelin sheath, which covers and protects nerve fibers.
Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by diabetes)
High blood sugar (diabetes) reduces the transmission of signals from the nerves.
This can affect the sensation in various parts of the body, including the feet.
High blood sugar also weakens the blood vessel walls that carry oxygen and nutrients to the nerves.
About 60 -70% of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage or neuropathy.
The risk increases for people who are:
- Have high blood pressure
- Smoke cigarettes
- Drink alcohol
HIV infection happens in three stages, which are:
- The acute or primary stage
- Latency or asymptomatic stage
- AIDS or symptomatic stage
The symptoms of HIV/AIDS can include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Coughing and shortness of breath
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
An underactive thyroid gland may lead to a few changes in the balance of hormones.
This can cause swelling that puts pressure on your nerves.
In addition to burning feet, symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, and dry skin.
Hypothyroidism is, however, more common among people older than 60 years of age.
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 an injury.
This can lead to pain and burning in the foot.
Vitamin deficiency anemia
Anemia, a deficiency in healthy red blood cells, may also be due to vitamin B deficiencies.
Vitamin deficiency anemia can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, numbness and tingling in extremities, and shortness of breath.
Doctors typically conduct a physical exam to diagnose burning feet and possible causes.
A physical exam can indicate:
- Structural problems in your feet or legs
- Fungal infection
- Reddened or pale skin
- Lack of feeling or sensation
In most patients, additional testing is not required to diagnose burning feet caused by neuropathy.
In some, however, the causative factors may not be clear.
In such cases, further diagnostic tests may be required.
The tests may include:
- Electromyography- a test measuring muscle response in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle.
- Nerve Conduction Test- a test that measures how fast an electrical impulse moves through your nerve.
- Nerve Biopsy- the removal of a small piece of a nerve for further testing.
Your healthcare professional may also test for diabetes and ask for your history of excess alcohol use.
A blood test can be done to check for:
- Thyroid hormone
- Kidney function
- Vitamin deficiency
- Other infections
Imaging tests may be performed if tarsal tunnel syndrome is suspected.
Your healthcare professional will ask about other symptoms to determine if an infection or injury is involved.
The treatment for burning feet depends on the underlying cause.
For neuropathy, the treatment focuses on relieving the pain and other symptoms.
This may include:
- Corticosteroid injections
- Anti-seizure medication
- Pain relievers
- Topical ointments
For diabetes, the goal is to keep blood sugar levels under control.
You may need to change your diet or medications, or can be done through:
- Weight loss
- Oral medication
- Insulin therapy
For severe nerve pain, nerve stimulation may help, such as:
- electrical nerve stimulation
- magnetic therapy
- laser therapy
- light therapy
There are a few home remedies that may help relieve the pain and burning sensation:
Coldwater or ice bath- Soaking your feet in cold water or an ice bath can temporarily relieve pain and burning.
Epsom salt and apple cider
Soak your feet in Epsom salts or an apple cider solution.
Epsom salt is a natural compound that contains magnesium sulfate.
It has a number of uses, including:
- Decreasing the symptoms of athlete’s foot
- Reducing inflammation
- Exfoliating the skin
- Reducing odor
Apple cider vinegar can combat bacteria, fungi, and other harmful microbes.
While it can help in treating athlete’s foot, there is no scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of this remedy.
Turmeric contains curcumin which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects and can be an effective treatment for several skin conditions.
Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which are helpful in reducing pain and discomfort.
It can slow the progression and even reverse diabetic neuropathy.
A massage increases blood flow to an area of the body.
Thai foot massage helps people with diabetic neuropathy improve their balance, the range of movement in their foot, and their foot sensation.
Topical creams that contain lidocaine or capsaicin can be quite effective.
Lidocaine is a local anesthetic that many medical professionals use.
Capsaicin is present in chili peppers and is effective in helping manage pain.
Topical lidocaine is also a common treatment for pain associated with Small fiber sensory neuropathy (SFSN) in both patch and gel form.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Foot conditions can vary in type, symptoms, and severity.
You should see a healthcare professional if a foot condition gets in the way of your day-to-day life or if home-based treatments don’t seem to be helping.
In some cases, the burning sensation can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as diabetes.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to monitor your feet closely. Symptoms such as burning feet can be an early sign of diabetic neuropathy.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Comparison of blood flow changes with soft tissue mobilization and massage therapy. (2014).
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Effects of thai foot massage on balance performance in diabetic patients with peripheral neuropathy: a randomized parallel-controlled trial. (2015).
Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid). (2021).
Is Fish Oil a Potential Treatment for Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy? (2018).
Potential of Curcumin in Skin Disorders. (2019).
Small Fiber Neuropathy: Disease Classification Beyond Pain and Burning. (2018).
The Stages of HIV Infection. (2021).
Topical capsaicin for pain management: therapeutic potential and mechanisms of action of the new high-concentration capsaicin 8% patch. (2011).
What helps to get rid of athlete's foot?. (2018).