Pain in your feet can make even simple tasks uncomfortable, negatively impacting your quality of life. There are many conditions that can cause aching or numbness in your feet, including lumbar radiculopathy (sciatica) and plantar fasciitis.
Sciatica is a condition that happens when nerves in your lower back are compressed. This compression can cause pain and numbness that radiates from your back and into your lower extremities, sometimes including the feet. Sciatica can also be caused by sciatic nerve compression in the buttocks or leg.
Plantar fasciitis could also be the culprit of foot pain. Plantar fasciitis refers to pain in your heel caused by inflammation from a band of tissue (fascia) along the bottom of your foot.
If you have recurring numbness, aching, or pain in your foot arches, ankles, and heels, it may be advisable to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will use a physical exam, symptom history, and other diagnostic tools to identify the cause of your foot pain.
Let’s overview the basics of lumbar radiculopathy and plantar fasciitis to better understand their differences.
Symptoms of sciatica aren’t limited to your foot. You’ll typically have symptoms of stabbing or burning pain in your lower back, too.
The pain traces the path of your sciatic nerve, which goes from your buttocks all the way down through the back of your thigh and to your foot.
- numbness and tingling in your lower extremities
- stabbing or burning pain in your lower back
- weakness in your lower back and lower extremities
- muscle spasms
Plantar fasciitis symptoms
Plantar fasciitis is the
This condition is often caused by overuse of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes. Overuse can happen if you’re an athlete or have a job that requires a lot of standing or walking.
Symptoms are typically limited to the foot only and can include:
- stabbing pain in your heel
- pain after standing for long periods
- pain in your foot when you wake up
While both sciatica and plantar fasciitis can cause foot pain, the reasons behind the pain are entirely different.
Sciatica is a term that refers to a set of symptoms that can be traced back to a compressed nerve. These symptoms can be triggered by acute or chronic health conditions, including injuries and types of arthritis.
Compression leading to lumbar radiculopathy can be caused by:
Doctors believe that
Runners, as well as active, working adults between 25 and 65 years old, are at the
Sciatica sometimes requires imaging tests in addition to a visual assessment. Your doctor may order an MRI, X-ray, or CT scan to determine whether your nerves are being compressed. You may also be asked to perform a
Treatments for these two conditions will differ according to the underlying cause. It’s possible to have both sciatica and plantar fasciitis at the same time.
Sciatica sometimes goes away without treatment. If your sciatica is caused by a pregnancy, for example, it may resolve once your pregnancy ends. If your sciatica pain is chronic (meaning it lasts for 12 weeks or more), you’ll need a doctor to determine if — and how — your nerve is being compressed.
First-line treatment for sciatica often starts at home. Your doctor may advise using a warm or cold compress to help soothe the area. Increasing your core strength, practicing good posture, and avoiding sitting for prolonged periods of time can also provide some relief.
If your sciatica persists beyond home treatment, your doctor may advise:
- over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs, or prescription pain medications
- corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- muscle relaxers to help with pain and spasms
Exercises or manipulation to benefit your spine from a chiropractor, acupuncturist, or physical therapist may also be recommended. These methods can help your body realign and strengthen necessary muscles to prevent nerve compression.
In severe cases that involve a bone spur or other obstruction that’s pressing on your nerve, you may be referred for surgery to treat sciatica.
Plantar fasciitis treatment
Plantar fasciitis can also often be treated at home.
Conservative treatments include:
- resting your feet, avoiding impact activities and long periods of standing up
- applying ice
- massaging the sore area
You may be advised to rest as fully as possible and follow this regimen for 6 weeks or longer as you wait for your plantar fascia to heal. Your doctor may also recommend OTC NSAIDs for pain relief, or prescribe another option.
If your pain doesn’t resolve with rest, ice, and massage, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid injection that can be done in your doctor’s office. This injection will aim to bring down inflammation to decrease pain and increase mobility while your body heals.
Other causes of foot pain
If lumbar radiculopathy and plantar fasciitis are not the cause of your foot pain, your doctor will speak with you about other possible conditions. These may include:
Sciatica and plantar fasciitis have some symptoms in common, but they’re separate conditions with different treatment strategies. It’s possible to have both.
Plantar fasciitis pain is typically limited to your foot’s heel and arch. Sciatica pain usually comes from your lower back and radiates down.
It’s important to consult your doctor in the case of foot pain. A timely diagnosis empowers you to rest and heal, so you can literally be back on your feet as soon as possible.