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The most common cause of a burning feeling in your feet is nerve damage, often related to diabetes, but there are other possible causes. The pain from burning feet can be intermittent or constant and range from mild to severe. Your feet may feel hot, tingling, prickling, or numb. The pain is often worse at night.

Treatment for burning feet will depend on the underlying cause.

Read on to learn more about what causes a burning sensation in the feet and when you should seek help.

The sensation of burning feet can come from a wide range of conditions. It’s important to determine a cause so you can receive treatment. Some causes, such as a foot fungus like athlete’s foot or shoes that are too tight, can be remedied easily. In some cases, the cause is unknown.

1. Diabetic neuropathy

Years of uncontrolled high blood sugar can gradually damage your blood vessels and nerves. High blood sugar reduces the transmission of signals from the nerves. This can affect 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.

The nerve damage can occur throughout your body.

Your risk for neuropathy increases if you:

  • have obesity
  • have high blood pressure
  • smoke cigarettes
  • drink alcohol

There are different types of neuropathy, but peripheral neuropathy is the most common type and the one most likely to affect the feet and legs. About one-third to one-half of people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Peripheral neuropathy can cause a burning feeling in your feet. Less frequently, it can affect the arms and hands.

Additional symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:

  • numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
  • a feeling like you’re wearing a tight sock
  • sharp, stabbing pains
  • weakness or heavy feeling in your legs or arms
  • excessive sweating

It’s important to see your doctor if you notice any signs of neuropathy. Managing your blood sugar can help prevent nerve damage or slow its course.

What are some natural treatments for peripheral neuropathy?

2. Small fiber neuropathy

Small fiber neuropathy is a painful neuropathy that often results in painful burning in the feet. There may also be a 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.

More general symptoms can also occur, such as:

  • fatigue
  • problems with thinking and focusing
  • headache
  • bone and muscle pain

Risk factors include:

  • hereditary features
  • exposure to toxins, including alcohol and some vaccines
  • infections, such as Lyme disease, HIV, and hepatitis C
  • diseases involving the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • diabetes and other diseases relating to metabolism

3. Alcohol use

People who consume a lot of alcohol are at risk of another type of nerve damage called alcoholic neuropathy. It can cause pain, tingling, and weakness in the feet.

People may also notice:

  • muscle weakness
  • problems with gait
  • burning pain
  • hypersensitivity to pain

Treatment involves stopping alcohol use and following a balanced diet that provides the necessary nutrients, especially B vitamins. These strategies can help prevent symptoms getting worse and may repair the damage in some cases.

4. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)

CMT is an inherited nerve disease. It affects the nerves that control muscles. It’s a progressive disease, meaning symptoms worsen over time.

An early symptom is weakness or paralysis in the feet and hands. The person may have difficulty lifting their foot or develop a high-stepped gait. In time, there may be muscle atrophy, when the muscles lose mass.

A cramping pain can also occur, ranging from mild to severe.

CMT is named after the three doctors who first described it in 1886. Other names for it are peroneal muscular atrophy and hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy.

5. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) occurs in a limb, most commonly after an injury or surgery. It involves nerve damage that affects the signaling from the brain and spine.

Symptoms include:

  • burning pain
  • tingling
  • hypersensitivity to a pain trigger
  • swelling
  • changes in skin color or texture

Over 90% of cases develop after a nerve injury or trauma. However, not everyone who experiences an injury will develop CRPS. This suggests genetic factors may also play a role.

6. Erythromelalgia

Erythromelalgia is a relatively rare disease involving red, hot, and painful feet without a known cause. The severity of the disease varies between individuals.

Pain can worsen after:

  • exercise
  • walking
  • standing
  • exposure to heat

7. Nutritional deficiencies

A lack of some B vitamins in the diet can result in a sensation of burning feet.

During World War II, an estimated one-third of American prisoners of war in the Pacific experienced burning feet syndrome caused by malnutrition.

In today’s population, especially among older people, nerve damage may stem from deficiencies in:

These vitamin B deficiencies can cause burning feet and muscle coordination problems.

Anemia, a deficiency in healthy red blood cells, may also be due to vitamin B deficiencies. Other symptoms of vitamin deficiency anemia include fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

What is malnutrition, and how can it affect people?

8. Hypothyroidism

An underactive thyroid changes the balance of hormones in your body. It can lead to widespread symptoms, including nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy may be an early sign of hypothyroidism, according to a 2016 study.

9. Infectious diseases

Nerve involvement can occur with various infections, and this could lead to burning pain in the feet.

They include:

Ask your doctor about testing if you think you have an infection and are experiencing burning in your feet.

10. Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection that can affect the feet, toenails, and hands. It is also known as tinea pedis.

A common symptom is itching between the toes or on the soles of the feet, but there may also be:

  • blisters on the feet that cause itching and burning
  • cracking and peeling skin between the toes or on the soles of the feet
  • dry skin on the sides or soles of the feet
  • toenails that pull away from the nail bed or appear discolored, thick, and crumbly

What are some home remedies for athlete’s foot?

11. Kidney disease

When your kidneys stop functioning properly, toxins build up in your blood. Various complications can arise, including peripheral neuropathy, symptoms of which include burning foot pain.

Up to 10% of people with kidney disease may also experience swelling and tenderness in the lower legs with burning foot pain.

People who undergo dialysis may have burning foot pain due to nutritional deficiencies, as dialysis removes thiamine, or vitamin B1, from the blood. However, this is rare now as most people receive supplemental thiamine with their treatment.

Kidney failure can also cause:

  • swelling
  • weakness and numbness
  • itching
  • headaches
  • fatigue and sleep problems
  • confusion
  • pain
  • joint pain, stiffness, or fluid

What are the best foods for people with kidney disease?

12. Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) involves a narrowing of the arteries that bring blood to the legs and feet. The symptoms can be similar to those of peripheral neuropathy, including pain in the feet and legs. The pain is often brought on by walking or exercising.

13. 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 a sharp, shooting, or radiating pain in the foot, which may extend up the leg.

Experts don’t know exactly why it happens, but 43% of people with tarsal tunnel syndrome have had some injury or trauma, such as an ankle sprain.

Early treatment can often improve symptoms.

14. Toxin exposure

Exposure to heavy metals and other industrial chemicals over long periods can lead to peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Some medications for treating certain conditions, like HIV or seizures, can also produce nerve damage.

15. Chemotherapy

Therapeutic chemicals used to kill cancer cells may have side effects, including peripheral neuropathy.

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
  • pain

Learn more about the side effects of chemotherapy.

The length of time a person’s feet may burn depends on the cause and the treatment they receive.

If you seek treatment for athlete’s foot, for example, it may clear up within a few weeks. Some causes, however, such as peripheral neuropathy, may be harder to treat. In some cases, the damage may be irreversible.

See your doctor if you have painful, burning feet.

Your doctor will first conduct a physical exam. A physical exam can indicate:

  • structural problems in your feet or legs
  • fungal infection
  • skin changes
  • reflexes
  • lack of feeling or sensation

Your doctor will then ask you about your medical history, including any medications you’re taking. They’ll ask you when your symptoms occur and how long they last.

Your doctor will likely test for diabetes, a common cause of burning feet. They may also ask how much alcohol you consume.

Then, they may order blood tests for:

They may order imaging tests if tarsal tunnel syndrome is suspected. Your doctor may look at your shoes and watch you walk to see if you have tight or ill-fitting shoes.

Your doctor will ask about other symptoms to determine if an infection or injury is involved.

You can connect with a primary care doctor in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.

Treatment for burning feet depends on the underlying cause.

Often, treatment can be straightforward. You may need:

If diabetes is involved, you may need to change your diet or medications. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs to help with nerve pain.

For severe nerve pain, nerve stimulation may help, such as:

  • electrical nerve stimulation
  • magnetic therapy
  • laser therapy
  • light therapy

Research is also ongoing for other new pain therapies.

Alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, may help some people.

It’s important to see your doctor about this type of pain. But some things you can try at home for temporary relief:

  • Soak your feet in cold water or ice baths for a few minutes. However, this isn’t suitable if you have erythromelalgia, as it may damage your skin.
  • Soak your feet in Epsom salts or an apple cider solution. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor before trying this remedy.
  • Take a turmeric supplement. The curcumin in turmeric may provide relief for nerve pain. Curcumin is known to have protective anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. It may also help with neurological symptoms.
  • Apply a topical cream that contains lidocaine or capsaicin. A homemade ginger or turmeric solution may work, too.
  • Massage your foot to help improve blood flow and circulation.

The feeling that your feet are burning can cause pain that ranges from mild and intermittent to life-disrupting and chronic. It’s important to work with your doctor to identify and treat the underlying cause.

If the cause is nerve damage, it may be permanent in some cases, but treatments are available to prevent further damage.

Read this article in Spanish.