Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109
NORTH END

( 617)720-2329


 

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Posts for: May, 2018

Almost all of us have experienced nerve pain in our foot before, whether it's from bad shoes or something anatomical like a neuroma.

The nerve pain in your foot is often provoked by problems within the foot itself, but in some cases it may be caused by a problem with your lumbar spine.

Nerve pain caused by a spinal problem

If you’re like most people, you might be surprised to learn that the nerve pain in your foot may be caused by a problem in an area as far away as your lumbar spine (lower back). This type of foot pain occurs when an underlying medical problem related to your lumbar spine provokes sciatica symptoms along the large sciatic nerve in your leg. In turn, these painful symptoms may travel all the way down the nerve into your foot.

Sciatica results from the compression of the lumbar spinal nerves that make up your sciatic nerve. Common spine-related causes of sciatica include:

 

Local causes of nerve pain

While a problem with your spine may be the cause of your foot pain, it is important to remember that there are multiple nerves in your foot, and any of these can be pinched or irritated within the foot itself. For example, tight shoes—and possibly high heels—can pinch a nerve and provoke a burning or electric-like sensation.

Additionally, a corn may develop in or around your toes. Corns grow over time as a result of excessive friction, and they can compress nearby nerves and cause pain and other symptoms. Another possible cause of nerve pain in your foot is Morton’s neuroma, which is a thickening of the tissue around a nerve in your foot.

Determining the source of your foot pain

With all the possible causes of nerve pain in your foot, how can you determine if your foot pain is provoked by an underlying lumbar spine problem? The primary indication as to whether your foot pain is caused by a problem with your spine is if you are also experiencing leg pain. Telltale signs can also include:

  • Difficulty bringing your foot up or walking on your tip-toes.
  • Foot heaviness or weakness—commonly referred to as foot drop.

See Foot Drop Symptoms, Steppage Gait & Other Warning Signs

It is also more common for foot pain related to a lumbar spine problem to present only on one side of the body. If both feet are affected, it is less likely sciatica, but spine-related conditions such as lumbar spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis can lead to symptoms in both legs.

See Degenerative Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Schedule a visit with your doctor

It is important you schedule an appointment with your doctor to receive an accurate diagnosis as to the cause of your foot pain. This is because you need to treat the underlying cause of your foot pain, not just the symptoms—and treatments for the various causes of foot pain can differ wildly. For example, a lumbar herniated disc may require heat therapy and exercise, while a corn on your toe can often be treated with new shoes and warm water.

See Foot Pain Causes and Treatments

The good news is that most cases of sciatica resolve within 6 to 12 weeks; so if your foot pain is caused by sciatica you likely won’t have to put up with long-term symptoms.


Sciatica affects millions of Americans, and it can range from a minor nuisance to a debilitating problem. Despite its pervasiveness, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the topic. Here are ten quick facts to help get you up to speed.

Learn more: What You Need to Know About Sciatica

Sciatica Facts

  1. Sciatica describes a set of symptoms. Sciatica is a symptom of an underlying medical condition. The term describes the pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that starts in the lower back and moves to the large sciatic nerve located in either leg.

    See Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica
     
  2. Common underlying conditions differ based on age. For adults under 60, the most common causes of sciatica are a lumbar herniated discdegenerative disc disease, and isthmic spondylolisthesis. For adults over 60, degenerative changes in the spine like lumbar spinal stenosis and degenerative spondylolisthesis are the typical culprits.

    Pregnancy, scar tissue, muscle strains, and bone fractures can also give rise to sciatica-like symptoms.

    See Sciatica Causes

  3. Location matters. Five nerve roots from your lower back join together to form the large sciatic nerve. Symptoms are typically dictated by which of these 5 nerve roots is pinched or irritated. For example, numbness in the feet is common when the nerve root near the L5 vertebra is pinched

    See Sciatic Nerve Anatomy
     
  4. You may experience multiple symptoms. Several nerve roots can be pinched at the same time, so you might have a mixture of symptoms; for example, you may feel pain or tingling on the outer part of your foot and simultaneously find it hard to straighten your leg.

    See Sciatica Symptoms
     
  5. Your underlying condition helps determine the treatment plan. One common treatment for sciatica is exercise. However, the specific exercises should be based on your underlying condition. For example, some of the exercises for sciatica caused by lumbar spinal stenosis are the opposite for exercises for similar symptoms caused by a herniated disc.

    See 
    Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief
     

A previous blog post discussed challenges people with back pain may face in the summer, such as travel, gardening, and humidity:

Summer Hazards That May Worsen Back Pain

Now, we’ll discuss how summer can help those with back pain. Mainly, it’s the perfect time of year to engage in appropriate outdoor exercises to rehabilitate your back.
 

Strong core body muscles, low-impact aerobic exercises, and regular stretching are all key to keeping back pain at bay.

See Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise

Most types of exercise can be done year-round, but the sunlight and green grass of summer can be great encouragement to get out and make the best of a pleasant day. Plus, the warm weather and nice scenery can increase feelings of well-being and decrease stress and anger in a way the inside of a gym may not be able to.
 

4 summer exercise ideas

Here are some suggestions of how summer can give your exercise routine a boost:

  1. Swimming and water therapy 

    Consider the summer a time to get out to your local lakes, rivers, and outdoor pools for swimming and water exercise, which tend to be especially gentle exercise for your joints and back.

  2. Biking

    For many with low back pain, biking is a good low-impact form of exercise that is gentle on the lower back.

    See Water Therapy Exercise Program
     

  3. Yoga and tai chi

    Yoga and tai chi are excellent low-impact activities for those with back or neck pain. In the summer, classes are often held in parks or on beaches.

    See How Yoga Helps the Back and Tai Chi for Posture and Back Pain
     

  4. Exercise walking

    Parks, woodlands, or new neighborhoods are all new places you can explore by taking summer walks a few times a week. If walking is hard on your hips or lower back, consider adding trekking poles to your walking routine.

    See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health
     

    Safety tips for summer activity

    It is especially important to stay hydrated when exercising in the summer. Drink 1 to 2 cups of water per hour to replenish your fluid level while outside. Drink an additional 1 to 2 cups per hour if you are actively exercising, even if it is swimming.

    It’s also important to prevent injury by including a 10-minute warm up and cool down as part of any workout. Warm up with light aerobic activity and cool down with stretching.