Burning feet: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

picture of Burning feet

Burning feet the sensation that your feet are painfully hot can be mild or severe. In some cases, your burning feet may be so painful that the pain interferes with your sleep. With certain conditions, burning feet may also be accompanied by a pins and needles sensation (paresthesia) or numbness, or both.

Burning feet syndrome, also known as Grierson-Gopalan syndrome, is a medical condition that causes severe burning and aching of the feet, hyperesthesia, and vasomotor changes of the feet that leads to excessive sweating. It can even affect the eyes, causing scotoma and amblyopia. The condition occurs more frequently in women, and usually manifests itself when a person is between twenty and forty years old.

Burning Feet Symptoms

In addition to the Tingling sensation, paresthesia symptoms can sometimes include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Increased sweating
  • Dull ache
  • Increased sensation of temperature

If you are experiencing these additional symptoms, it could be a sign of a more serious condition, and you should seek medical attention from a primary care physician, podiatrist, or neurologist.

Causes of Burning Feet

Burning feet that occurs infrequently or for a short time may simply occur because your feet are tired or you have an irritation such as athlete’s foot. Persistent or progressive burning feet, however, can be a symptom of nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), perhaps due to diabetes, chronic alcohol use, exposure to certain toxins, certain B vitamin deficiencies or HIV.

Possible causes of burning feet:

  1. Radiation therapy
  2. Athlete’s foot
  3. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (a group of hereditary disorders that affects the nerves in your arms and legs)
  4. Chemotherapy
  5. Chronic kidney disease
  6. Complex regional pain syndrome (chronic pain due to a dysfunctional nervous system)
  7. Diabetic neuropathy (diabetes-related nerve damage)
  9. Hypothyroidism
  10. Tarsal tunnel syndrome
  11. Vitamin deficiency anemia

Diagnosing Burning Feet

Most people who have burning feet have a likely cause (such as diabetes) that can be identified. For these people, the diagnosis of burning feet due to neuropathy is straightforward, and additional testing is not needed.

In a few people whose burning sensation is sudden, rapidly worsening, or has no explainable cause, further testing may be needed to make a correct diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Electromyography (EMG). A test of muscle function using recordings of electrical activity inside the muscles. A probe may be placed on the skin, or a needle may be inserted into the muscle, for an EMG test.
  • Nerve conduction study. A nerve conduction study tests the ability of nerves to transmit impulses. A nerve is stimulated, and the response in the muscle controlled by that nerve is measured.
  • Laboratory tests. Sometimes, tests of blood, urine, or spinal fluid may be suggested to help diagnose the cause of burning feet. Vitamin levels can be checked with a simple blood test.
  • Nerve biopsy. Very rarely, a doctor may suggest cutting out a piece of nerve tissue and examining it under a microscope.

Burning Feet Prevention Tips

Here are some tips to help you rid yourself of burning feet:

  • After walking or wearing shoes and socks for a while, change out of them to allow your feet, socks, and shoes to dry thoroughly.
  • If you use insoles, pads, or inserts (orthotics), change them regularly in order to allow proper support.
  • Stretch and ice your feet regularly after a long day. To learn more about exercises for your feet, check out our article on Plantar Fasciitis Exercises.
  • Rest your feet as often as possible.
  • Follow all instructions given by your doctor, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Treatments for Burning Feet

Burning feet treatments include treating the pain and abnormal sensations created by neuropathy. Some commonly prescribed medications for burning feet include:

  • gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • desipramine (Norpramin)
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol)
  • pregabalin (Lyrica)
  • duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • topiramate (Topamax)
  • venlafaxine (Effexor XR)

Other pain medications may be necessary to reduce the severe discomfort some people experience from burning feet. Over-the-counter medicines like Advil, Aleve, Motrin IB, and Tylenol control pain in many people with burning feet. Prescription pain relievers like tramadol (Ultram) or low-dose opiates (narcotics) may be necessary for severe pain.