Burning feet, otherwise referred to as paresthesias, is the term used to describe a hot, painful, “pins and needles” sensation in the feet. These sensations can range from mild to severe, and may be acute (short term) or chronic (long term) in nature. Causes of burning feet are numerous and varied, ranging from simple fatigue to more serious conditions such as a nerve damage or circulatory issues. Therefore, the underlying cause should be diagnosed as soon as possible to avoid long-term damage and morbidity.
Burning feet affect patients in all age groups, although patients over the age of 50 seem to go more often to the doctor’s office. Underlying systemic conditions such as diabetes, alcoholism, and nerve injuries to the back can cause neuropathy or loss of sensation in the feet, often causing the tips of the fingers and toes to “burn.” As a result of these underlying conditions, people who suffer from burning feet syndrome can also have problems related to other parts of their body.
Burning Feet Symptoms
Burning feet can be a symptom of an underlying condition, and can be accompanied by additional symptoms such as:
- Tingling sensation
- Increased sweating
- Dull ache
- Increased sensation of temperature
If you are experiencing these additional symptoms, it could be a sign of a more serious condition, and you should seek medical attention from a primary care physician, podiatrist, or neurologist.
What Causes Burning Feet?
There are several reasons why people experience burning feet, and while some are inconsequential, others signify a more serious problem that requires immediate medical attention. Common causes of burning feet include:
- Nerve damage
- Blood disorders
- Circulatory disorders
- Nerve entrapments
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Athlete’s foot
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Exposure to toxins or chemicals
- Contact Dermatitis
Many people experience burning feet at the end of a long day. This is particularly true for people who are overweight and spend long periods of time on their feet. Burning feet can sometimes prevent relaxation and sleep, which is a more serious problem. Circulatory conditions and nerve disorders neuropathy can lead to burning feet. Fungal infections such as athlete’s foot can also cause the feet to burn in the affected area. Often allergic reactions can cause burning when the skin comes into contact with certain materials in shoes or socks that have been washed with a new laundry detergent.
Diagnosing Burning Feet
Your doctor will start with a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms, the type of shoes you wear, and your medical history. Through a physical exam and an analysis of your history, your doctor will be able to make a diagnosis. X-rays and other diagnostic imaging tests—such as CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRI scans—may be used to rule out injuries, nerve entrapment, soft-tissue masses, and trauma, among other things. Skin samples may be taken for biopsy, especially if symptoms suggest a skin condition. Some skin conditions, such as athlete’s foot and eczema, can cause the skin to burn. Your doctor may also take samples of your blood and urine to rule out other medical conditions such as diabetes, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis. Often your primary care physician will refer you to a specialist—such a neurologist, an endocrinologist, a dermatologist, an allergist, or a rheumatologist for—further evaluation.
Burning Feet Treatment
Once you see your doctor about your burning feet, he or she will be able to create an appropriate treatment plan for you. Treatment may be as simple as changing your footwear, or it may involve systemic medication to correct the primary cause of your condition.
Things you can do at home to help alleviate burning feet include:
- Wearing the proper footwear
- Wearing socks made of cotton only to decrease sweating
- Adding insoles, inserts, and other types of orthotics
- Bathing your feet in cool (not iced) water
- Creams or ointments with cooling properties
- Increase your daily nutritional intake, especially Vitamin B
- Rest your feet as often as possible
- Elevate your feet while resting
- Decrease your intake of narcotics and/or alcohol
Treatment options your doctor may use, depending on the cause, include:
- Prescribed medication (fungal, narcotic, nerve, and diabetic medications)
- Prescribed ointments or creams
- Custom-made orthotics or footwear
- Surgery to repair damaged nerves or problems located in the nerves, joints or muscles
Again, your treatment plan will be based on the diagnosis of your specialist or primary care physician. The bottom line is, if you are suffering from burning feet, you should seek medical attention immediately. If you plan on treating yourself before visiting the doctor you MUST proceed with caution, as certain treatments can cause serious damage in patients with undiagnosed conditions, especially neuropathy and circulatory disorders.
Burning Feet Prevention Tips
Here are some tips to help you rid yourself of burning feet:
- After walking or wearing shoes and socks for a while, change out of them to allow your feet, socks, and shoes to dry thoroughly.
- If you use insoles, pads, or inserts (orthotics), change them regularly in order to allow proper support.
- Stretch and ice your feet regularly after a long day. To learn more about exercises for your feet, check out our article on Plantar Fasciitis Exercises.
- Rest your feet as often as possible.
- Follow all instructions given by your doctor, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
When Should I See a Doctor?
If your job requires you to be upright and in motion and your feet burn once your shoes are off, you should consider seeing a podiatrist (foot doctor), rheumatologist (arthritis specialist), or neurologist (nerve doctor). Burning feet are not normal, and your doctor can help diagnose your condition before it is too late. Whatever may be causing the burning sensation should be evaluated and treated as soon as possible. You should never wait to see a professional about burning feet. If you are experiencing this problem, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Talking to Your Doctor
Here are a few questions to ask your doctor if you are suffering from burning feet:
- Would a change in my diet help? If so, can you help me understand the importance of certain vitamins and minerals?
- Once the burning goes away, is there a chance the problem will return?
- Can I use ice daily?
- Can you recommend a particular type of orthotic device for me?
- Can my shoes or laundry detergent be causing the burning?