Ever felt like your feet have suddenly caught on fire? Is it common for you to be startled out of your composed state or your sleep by a tingling sensation or a burning pain in your feet?
If yes, then do not take it lightly as it can point towards an underlying health issue that may be a cause of concern. Burning sensations in the feet, also known as Grierson-Gopalan syndrome, is a relatively common condition that can affect people of all ages. The discomforting symptoms associated with this problem can range from mild to severe and can be acute or chronic in nature. Moreover, the resulting heat and pain can be localized in the soles of feet but can also spread to the tops of the feet, the ankles, and even the lower legs.
Causes of Burning Sensations
- Often, burning sensations in the feet are due to some kind of neuropathy or dysfunction in the nervous system.
- Diabetes is the most common cause of nerve damage, as the elevated blood sugar levels hamper the transmission of signals from the nerves. This in turn can affect sensations in various parts of the body including the feet. Thus, middle-aged men and women who do not have good control over their blood sugar level are most prone to develop this condition, and symptoms usually start with burning feet and numb toes. Diabetic neuropathy occurs in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Alcohol abuse is another very common cause of neuropathy in the legs. People suffering from alcoholic neuropathy often feel burning and tingling sensations in their feet.
- Inflammation as well as infection of the feet due to athletes’ foot, foot injuries, or traumas, stings, and bites from insects can also give rise to this condition.
- Some other causes of neuropathy or burning sensation in the feet are chronic kidney disease (uremia), small fiber neuropathy, low thyroid hormone levels (hypothyroidism), Lyme disease, HIV/AIDS, amyloid polyneuropathy, heavy metal poisoning, erythromelalgia, and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP).
- Even vitamin deficiency (vitamin B12, folate, and occasionally vitamin B6) and drug side effects can cause burning sensation in the feet.
- Pregnant women tend to experience hot feet due to hormonal changes that raise the body’s temperature as well as the added burden on the feet due to the natural weight gain and an increasing body fluid.
Symptoms of Burning Sensations
In addition to the burning sensation in the feet, one can also have the following symptoms:
- Increased sweating
- Dull ache
- Peeling skin
- Change in skin color or texture in the affected area
- Increased sensation of temperature
- Prickling sensation under the feet
- Try your best to keep your blood sugar level under control by following the right diet, exercising daily, and taking your medicines or insulin on time.
- Use insoles, pads, or inserts in your footwear to ensure proper support.
- Sprinkle the insides of your shoes with medicated foot powder or directly apply it to your feet to absorb excess moisture. This will help prevent athlete’s foot.
- In warm and humid weather, wear footwear that allows the feet to breathe.
- Always wear proper-fitting and comfortable footwear.
- Do not wear shoes without socks.
- Rest your feet as often as possible and elevate your feet while resting.
- Eat more foods that have essential fatty acids or take fish oil supplements.
- Wear flip-flops when using public pools and showers to reduce the risk of foot cuts and infection.
- Avoid prolonged periods of standing or walking.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical care if there is an open wound on your foot that appears to be infected, especially if you have diabetes.
Also, see your doctor if the symptom is becoming more intense and painful, the feeling of burning sensation has spread up into your legs, and you experience a gradual loss of feeling in your toes or feet.
Since the burning sensations in the feet can spring from a variety of underlying causes, it is essential that you seek your doctor’s counsel for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. It can usually be controlled with over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Treating Burning Sensation in the Feet
However, you can alleviate some of the discomfort associated with this condition by trying out some simple remedies in conjunction with the doctor-prescribed treatment.
Here are the best home remedies for burning sensations in the feet.
1. Cold Water
Soaking your feet in cold water, but not ice-cold water, can bring relief from burning sensation in the feet. This remedy was even suggested in a 2003 study published in the Australian Family Physician.
The cold water provides instant comfort from the tingling, numbness, and swelling of the feet.
- Fill a foot tub with cold water.
- Soak your feet in it for 10 minutes.
- Give your feet some rest and then soak again.
- Repeat several times a day.
Note: Do not soak your feet in cold water for more than 10 minutes at a stretch as it can worsen the symptoms.
Also, do not apply ice or an ice pack directly to the affected area. Cold water immersions are often advised against cases erythromelalgia as it may cause reactive flaring and may further lead to maceration of the skin, nonhealing ulcers, and other problems.
Gently massaging your feet with some oil is another great way to relieve the discomfort associated with burning feet. Massage has a soothing effect and helps increase blood circulation in the feet.
A 2015 study published in Medical Science Monitor Basic Research highlights the therapeutic impact of Thai foot massage in allaying the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in patients with diabetes. The massage helped improve balance performance, the range of motion of the foot, and the foot sensation.
- Warm some olive, coconut, or mustard oil.
- Apply the oil on the affected area.
- Massage using upward strokes with firm fingers for at least 10 minutes.
- Do this daily before going to bed and early in the morning to ensure proper circulation.
3. Warm Water Bath
Hydrotherapy is highly beneficial in the management of pain and inflammation associated with this condition. Poor blood flow is often held responsible for hot and numb feet. Because warm baths work wonders to stimulate blood circulation in the body, hydrotherapy is an effective strategy to mitigate the burning sensation in the feet.
Heat improves the blood circulation to the site of the damaged nerve and aids the healing process. Moreover, warm water bath also works as a stress buster that promotes overall relaxation and composure in the mind and body.
- Enjoy a warm water bath, twice daily for 20 minutes. However, always remember to check the water temperature with your hands instead of your foot before stepping into the bathtub.
- For added benefit, you can put 1 cup of Epsom salt in your bathwater, once or twice a week.
4. Capsaicin Cream
Capsaicin has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help deal with diabetes-induced burning sensations in the feet.
When applied topically, capsaicin cream produces a warming sensation that helps reduce the tingling sensation and the pain.
In a 2002 clinical study, researchers demonstrated the beneficial impact engendered by the topical application of capsaicin to the feet of patients suffering from symptomatic diabetic neuropathy.
Furthermore, capsaicin cream is even beneficial in the case of erythromelalgia, which can also cause burning sensation in the feet.
- There are over-the-counter capsaicin creams available in concentrations ranging from 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin. All you need to do is apply the cream on the feet 2–3 times a day.
However, avoid applying capsaicin cream on broken or irritated skin.
5. Vitamin B
Nutritional deficiency of certain B vitamins can ultimately cause burning sensation in the feet. This is due to the fact that B vitamins play an important functional role in the nervous system and are especially essential for nerve repair.
According to a 2017 study published in Current Oncology Reports, researchers report that B vitamins play an important role in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.
Another study published in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain (PAIN) suggests that vitamin B3 may be useful in treating or preventing nerve pain (neuropathy) caused by chemotherapy drugs.
Hence, incorporating a vitamin B supplement in your diet is a good preventive measure. However, be sure to consult your doctor about it first.
It’s important to remain physically active to help improve the blood circulation in your body and prevent nervous system problems.
Exercising also helps lower blood sugars and keeps your diabetes in control, which is a condition that also causes burning sensation in the feet.
In a 2015 study published in Pain Medicine, researchers found that perceived pain interference may be reduced following an aerobic exercise intervention among people suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, no change in pain intensity was reported.
Another study published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications in 2017 reports improvements in neuropathic and cutaneous nerve fiber branching following supervised exercise in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
- Try to walk barefoot on soft grass or sand for a few minutes when you feel a burning sensation in the feet. This will ease the symptoms quickly.
- Exercises like jogging and running must be done on a regular basis. These are excellent for increasing and improving the blood circulation in your entire body.
7. Limit Alcohol Intake
Alcohol abuse is a common reason behind burning sensation in the feet. Hence, if you have the habit of drinking in excess, it is time to control your drinking habit or abstain from it altogether.
Excessive alcohol intake is toxic to the nerves and causes irreversible nerve damage. Another adverse attribute of alcohol is that it hinders the body’s ability to absorb and utilize certain nutrients that are indispensable to the proper functioning of the nerves.
Moreover, a 1998 study published in Alcohol Health & Research World reports that even moderate amounts of alcohol can interfere with blood sugar control and increase the risk of peripheral neuropathy in diabetics.
Thus, it is safe to say that excessive alcohol consumption poses a threat of alcoholic neuropathy.
- Limit alcohol to no more than four drinks a week, or avoid alcohol completely if possible.
Acupuncture, a popular Chinese remedy, is another effective option to cope with burning sensation in the feet, especially if it is due to diabetic neuropathy.
In acupuncture, experts insert tiny needles at various pressure points across the body to help stimulate the nervous system.
In a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Neurology, researchers found that acupuncture helps improve symptoms of peripheral neuropathy in patients.
Another 2010 study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies reports that acupuncture may be clinically useful for the radical treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Hai-En Peng (Podiatrist)
Is burning sensation in the feet a sign of diabetes?
Not always. You can have burning in the feet and not have diabetes. It’s always a good idea to go see the doctor and get it checked out.
What precautions should be taken by people with burning feet syndrome?
For one, it can lead to debilitating pain. Two, the burning pain can lead to numbness and weakness which leads to unstable gait and the person becomes more prone to falling. These should be evaluated by a specialist to determine the cause of burning.
Can taking vitamin B supplements help reduce burning sensation in feet?
Yes it can. Vitamin B supplements and intramuscular injections can significantly help nerve health.
Can topical creams and ointments help relieve the symptoms of burning feet syndrome?
Yes it can. There are a variety of over-the-counter topical creams that can help. Many specialists also carry a variety of compounded topicals that can be dispensed or written for example; Cannabidiol oil has been a game changer for the medical industry and can be very helpful in reducing symptoms.
Please provide some tips to help relieve the burning sensation in the feet for the benefit of our readers.
The big tip here is finding out the reason for the burning pain in the feet. If it’s due to diabetes, then strict control of blood sugars is the key and a follow-up with their internist is needed. If it’s due to a back issue or some other malady, a foot/ankle specialist can help navigate and decide what the next steps should be. Topicals out on the market are only for symptomatic relief. Finding out the cause will start the path of healing.
About Dr. Hai-En Peng, Podiatrist: Dr. Peng was born in Nyack, NY and went to California College of Podiatric Medicine in San Francisco, CA. He spent the next 4 years there and graduated in the top 15% of his class. Dr. Peng also completed a 3-year advanced surgical residency in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery.
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