Almost all of us have experienced nerve pain in our foot before, whether it's from bad shoes or something anatomical like a neuroma.
The nerve pain in your foot is often provoked by problems within the foot itself, but in some cases it may be caused by a problem with your lumbar spine.
Nerve pain caused by a spinal problem
If you’re like most people, you might be surprised to learn that the nerve pain in your foot may be caused by a problem in an area as far away as your lumbar spine (lower back). This type of foot pain occurs when an underlying medical problem related to your lumbar spine provokes sciatica symptoms along the large sciatic nerve in your leg. In turn, these painful symptoms may travel all the way down the nerve into your foot.
Watch: Sciatic Nerve Anatomy Video
Sciatica results from the compression of the lumbar spinal nerves that make up your sciatic nerve. Common spine-related causes of sciatica include:
- Lumbar herniated disc
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis
- Isthmic spondylolisthesis
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
See Sciatica Causes
Local causes of nerve pain
While a problem with your spine may be the cause of your foot pain, it is important to remember that there are multiple nerves in your foot, and any of these can be pinched or irritated within the foot itself. For example, tight shoes—and possibly high heels—can pinch a nerve and provoke a burning or electric-like sensation.
Additionally, a corn may develop in or around your toes. Corns grow over time as a result of excessive friction, and they can compress nearby nerves and cause pain and other symptoms. Another possible cause of nerve pain in your foot is Morton’s neuroma, which is a thickening of the tissue around a nerve in your foot.
Determining the source of your foot pain
With all the possible causes of nerve pain in your foot, how can you determine if your foot pain is provoked by an underlying lumbar spine problem? The primary indication as to whether your foot pain is caused by a problem with your spine is if you are also experiencing leg pain. Telltale signs can also include:
- Difficulty bringing your foot up or walking on your tip-toes.
- Foot heaviness or weakness—commonly referred to as foot drop.
It is also more common for foot pain related to a lumbar spine problem to present only on one side of the body. If both feet are affected, it is less likely sciatica, but spine-related conditions such as lumbar spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis can lead to symptoms in both legs.
Schedule a visit with your doctor
It is important you schedule an appointment with your doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis as to the cause of your foot pain. This is because you need to treat the underlying cause of your foot pain, not just the symptoms—and treatments for the various causes of foot pain can differ wildly. For example, a lumbar herniated disc may require heat therapy and exercise, while a corn on your toe can often be treated with new shoes and warm water.
The good news is that most cases of sciatica resolve within 6 to 12 weeks; so if your foot pain is caused by sciatica you likely won’t have to put up with long-term symptoms.