Have you ever felt a sensation of pain or numbness in one of your feet and wondered what could be causing it? One of the possible causes could be a pinched nerve.
A pinched nerve happens when too much pressure is placed on a nerve by the tissue around it, leading to symptoms like pain, numbness, or tingling.
This article will take a closer look at what can cause a pinched nerve in your foot and how it can be treated.
If you have a pinched nerve in your foot, you may experience the following symptoms:
- aching, sharp, or burning pain
- feelings of numbness in the area the affected nerve supplies
- sensations of tingling, “pins and needles,” or that your foot has fallen asleep
- muscle weakness in your foot
You may feel symptoms in the bottom of your foot, your heel, or the ball of your foot. Symptoms may be isolated to one area or radiate outward to other parts of your foot, like the arches or toes.
You may also notice that your symptoms are associated with specific activities. These can include things like standing for a long time, walking, or exercising.
Simply put, a pinched nerve can happen when too much pressure is placed on a nerve. There are a number of factors that can cause this to happen in your foot. Below, we’ll explore some of the most common causes in more detail.
An injury to your foot from a fall, car accident, or playing sports can lead to a pinched nerve. An injury can cause the soft tissue in your foot to become inflamed and swollen, which, in turn, can place additional pressure on nearby nerves.
Repetitive motions, such as those in some sports or professions, can subject the tissues of your foot to repeated trauma. Over time, this can lead to swelling of the surrounding tissue, which may affect the nerves in that area of your foot.
Structures or growths in the foot
Sometimes, a specific structure or growth in your foot can place pressure on a nerve. Conditions that can do this include:
- Bone spurs. These hard bumps of extra bone can form at the edge of the bones in your foot or toes, usually in or around a joint.
- Ganglion cysts. These noncancerous fluid-filled cysts can form around the joints of the ankle and foot.
- Neuromas. These are noncancerous growths of nerve tissue. A common foot neuroma is called Morton’s neuroma, which most frequently occurs between the third and fourth toes.
- Varicose veins. These are enlarged veins that most often occur in the legs, but they can also develop in the feet.
Some types of footwear can put too much pressure on certain parts of your foot. Examples include high-heeled shoes or shoes that are too tight.
Carrying additional weight can place extra pressure on the soft tissue in your feet and the nerves surrounding the tissue.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which a specific nerve, called the posterior tibial nerve, becomes compressed. If you have tarsal tunnel syndrome, you’ll often feel symptoms on the inside of your ankle or the bottom of your foot.
Baxter’s nerve entrapment
Like tarsal tunnel syndrome, this condition involves the compression of a specific nerve — the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve. When pressure is put on this nerve, it can result in pain in your heel or the bottom of your foot.
Sometimes, an underlying condition can put additional pressure on a nerve. Examples include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints. This can lead to swelling that may pinch surrounding nerves.
- Osteoarthritis. This is a condition in which the cartilage around your joints breaks down. Sometimes, bone spurs or pinched nerves can occur due to osteoarthritis.
Researchhas shown that the metabolic changes caused by diabetes may lead to swelling, which, in turn, can put extra pressure on nerves.
Other causes of foot pain
There are also several other conditions that can cause pain similar to a pinched nerve in the foot. These conditions include:
- Peripheral neuropathy. This condition happens when nerves on the periphery of your body, most often in the hands and feet, are damaged. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including pain, tingling sensations, and muscle weakness. Many things can cause peripheral neuropathy, including but not limited to diabetes, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, some vitamin deficiencies, and some medications.
- Plantar fasciitis. This can occur when the long ligament on the bottom of your foot, the plantar fascia, becomes inflamed. It can lead to pain at the heel or bottom of the foot.
- Sciatica. This condition occurs when your sciatic nerve becomes pinched or irritated. It can lead to pain that may radiate down the leg or to the foot.
- Stress fractures. These are small cracks that occur in bones as a result of repetitive activities or overuse. When a stress fracture happens in the foot, you may feel pain during physical activity that goes away with rest.
If you think you may have a pinched nerve in your foot, there are self-care measures you can take to help ease the symptoms. Here are some home remedies you may want to try:
- Rest up. Try to avoid any movements or activities that aggravate the pinched nerve.
- Adjust your footwear. Make sure your shoes fit well and provide support. Avoid shoes with a high heel or narrow toe box. You may also want to consider getting inserts to give your feet more support.
- Apply ice. Wrap an ice pack in a thin moist towel and use it on the affected area for about 20 minutes at a time. This may help ease swelling and inflammation.
- Try massage. Gently massaging your foot may help to temporarily ease pain and discomfort.
- Use a brace. In some cases, immobilizing the area may prevent irritation of the pinched nerve and help it heal.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications. OTC medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can help reduce pain and ease inflammation.
Make an appointment to see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve, or worsen, after several days of at-home care. Your doctor can work with you to diagnose your condition and determine the best treatment for you.
Your doctor will likely first ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. They may also want to do additional tests, which can include:
In addition to self-care measures, your doctor may recommend other treatments based on what’s causing your pinched nerve, such as:
- Prescription medications, like corticosteroids. These can help ease pain and inflammation, and may be given orally or via injection.
- Custom inserts, called orthotics. These can help ease your symptoms by providing better foot cushioning and support.
- Physical therapy. This typically includes exercises and stretches to help relieve pressure on the nerves. You’ll likely also be given instructions on exercises to do at home to help ease your symptoms.
- Surgery for conditions that don’t improve with other treatments. The exact type of surgery will vary depending on the location and cause of the pinched nerve. The overall goal is to relieve the pressure that’s leading to your symptoms.
There are steps you can take to prevent getting a pinched nerve in your foot. Follow these tips to keep extra pressure off the nerves in your feet:
- Try to avoid repetitive motions that could aggravate the soft tissue in your feet.
- Wear shoes that are wide enough for your feet and provide adequate support. Limit the amount of time you spend in shoes with heels or narrow toes.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight in order to keep pressure off of your feet.
- Work closely with your doctor to keep any pre-existing conditions like diabetes and RA under control.
Nerves can become pinched when too much pressure is put on them. This can lead to pain, numbness, and muscle weakness.
There are many possible causes of a pinched nerve, including injury, bone spurs, arch issues, ill-fitting shoes, and underlying conditions like diabetes or RA.
Sometimes, the symptoms of a pinched nerve in your foot may go away with home remedies and self-care. However, if your symptoms don’t get better, see your doctor to get a diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.