If you have foot pain, the first thought that pops into your head probably doesn’t have anything to do with your spine. But it’s a connection worth considering if initial treatments focused on your feet haven’t been effective. As for whether or not foot pain can be caused by spine problems, the answer is yes. Here’s what you need to know about this connection and what can be done about it.
Nerve irritation can cause a problem originating within your spine to affect your feet. One way this can happen is if there’s compression within the sacral spine, which is located above the tailbone. The nerve that can be affected in this area is the sciatic nerve, which runs down into the legs. If pain stemming from the sciatic nerve travels far enough down your leg and branches off into connecting nerves, you may feel discomfort in your foot.
Several different sources can cause nerve roots in your lower back area to be irritated or compressed. The more common spine-related ones include:
• A herniated disc in the lower back area
• Age-related disc damage in the same area (degenerative disc disease)
• Slippage of a spinal bone over an adjacent one (spondylolisthesis)
• Spinal narrowing (lumbar spinal stenosis)
Individuals living with pain due to these types of issues may benefit from decompression surgery. With surgical intervention, such as a vertebroplasty procedure, Beverly Hills patients may be able to get relief from the pressure on the nerves and spinal cord.
If you experience a condition called foot drop, the problem may stem from a compressed nerve in the L5 segment of your spine. Foot drop is characterized by an inability to lift the front portion of your foot. You may also trip frequently as you walk. In some cases, nerve roots at the L4 or S1 levels may cause the same problem. Foot drop can also be caused by bone overgrowth in the spinal canal.
Nerves originating directly or indirectly from your spine may become damaged further down along their pathways in a way that affects your foot. This can happen within your hips and legs or around your knee area. Issues of this nature may be related to:
• Peroneal neuropathy – A type of nerve injury that occurs near the knee in a way that could cause foot pain or foot drop.
• Sciatic neuropathy – Nerve damage that affects the hip area and could leave you with foot-related discomfort.
• Tarsal tunnel syndrome – A condition that affects the largest branch of the sciatic nerve (called the tibial nerve) in the inner ankle in a way that could cause sharp/shooting foot or ankle pain.
• Sural nerve entrapment – Compression that can cause the spine-linked sural nerve, located in the calf region of the leg, to cause shooting pain that extends to the outside part of the foot or ankle.
It’s not always easy to tell where foot pain is coming from or if it may be associated with a spine problem or related nerves. Signs that may give you an idea of where the source of your discomfort could be located include:
• Foot pain that develops following lower back, hip, knee, or ankle trauma—suggests the location of the trauma is where a nerve is affected
• Foot discomfort associated with numbness, weakness, or pain extending to the buttocks, thighs, or legs—suggests sciatic nerve or nerve root irritation
• Foot pain that develops after wearing footwear that’s too tight—suggests peroneal/sural nerve irritation
• Foot pain experienced after hip surgery or an injection in the hip area—suggests a connection to the sciatic nerve
The only way to know for sure what’s causing your foot pain is to see your doctor. You may be referred to a specialist or Beverly Hills spine surgeon if there’s a need to do nerve conduction studies or other specialized tests. You’ll ultimately benefit more from treatment recommendations that address the source of your foot pain, not just your symptoms.
If you’re having severe or persistent foot pain you suspect is related to your spine, make sure to consult with a spine specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. At The Spine Institute, our pioneering doctors have extensive experience with every aspect of back health, and they lead the industry with cutting-edge methods for relieving pain, from nonsurgical treatment to traditional spinal surgery. Call one of our friendly team members to schedule an appointment at 310-828-7757.