Nerve pain may result from a pinched nerve or a chronic condition, such as diabetes.

Any foot pain can have a significant impact on daily life, and untreated nerve pain may keep a person from enjoying or accomplishing their regular activities.

Below, learn what nerve pain in the foot feels like, what can cause it, and what treatments are available.

A person sitting on the floor who has nerve pain in their foot.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: katleho Seisa/Getty Images

Regardless of the cause of the pain, someone with nerve pain in one or both feet may experience:

  • a burning, aching, or tingling sensation
  • the sensation of an electric shock in the foot or feet
  • pain that gets worse during the night or specific activities
  • muscle weakness in the area

Also, the same issue that causes nerve pain may alternately cause numbness.

The following health issues can lead to nerve pain in one or both feet.

Baxter’s neuropathy

Baxter’s neuropathy is a form of nerve entrapment. It results from the compression of the inferior calcaneal nerve, which sits just under the base of the foot’s arch.

Risk factors include:

  • plantar fasciitis — inflammation of the plantar fascia, the part of the feet that connects the heel bone to the toes
  • obesity
  • bone spurs
  • flat feet, or fallen arches

Morton’s neuroma

Morton’s neuroma involves thickened tissues compressing nerves between the toes.

A person may experience pain on the bottom of the foot that worsens when walking, particularly in tight high heels. The pain may fade during rest or after removing the shoes.

The pain may be burning, stabbing, or tingling, or it may feel like an electric shock. It may extend to the back of the foot or leg, causing cramping. Some people also experience numbness between their toes.

Common causes of Morton’s neuroma include:

  • wearing narrow shoes
  • wearing high heels
  • inflammation of the joints
  • thickening of foot ligaments
  • injury to the front of the feet, such as from high-impact sports or jogging
  • lipomas — lumps beneath the skin that contain an overgrowth of fat cells

Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome causes pain in the feet and legs due to compression of the posterior tibial nerve, which runs down the back of the lower leg, or the plantar nerves in the feet.

Researchers currently do not know how common this condition is, as doctors often underdiagnose it. However, it appears to be more common in females.

Symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome include:

  • sharp, shooting pain in the inner ankle and along the foot
  • numbness on the underside of the foot
  • pain when flexing and moving the foot
  • a tingling or burning sensation

The symptoms may worsen at night, while walking or standing, or after physical activity. The pain often lessens after resting.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome may result from:

  • wearing poorly fitting shoes
  • injuring the feet or legs
  • developing postsurgical scarring
  • having varicose veins
  • having a ganglion cyst
  • having lipomas

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is an umbrella term for numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the toes, feet, fingers, hands, or a combination of these areas. The symptoms may worsen at night.

Also, peripheral neuropathy can cause nonspecific symptoms that make it difficult to move the feet and do basic activities.

Researchers do not fully understand why certain people develop peripheral neuropathy while others do not.

However, they have identified conditions that increase the chances of developing peripheral neuropathy. These health issues include:

  • infections
  • a deficiency of a nutrient, such as B12
  • alcohol use disorder
  • diabetes
  • certain hereditary conditions, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which causes a loss of muscle tissue
  • Guillian-Barré syndrome, a condition that causes rapid muscle weakness

Diabetic neuropathy

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause nerve pain in the toes and feet. Diabetic neuropathy affects more than 90% of people with diabetes.

Typically, the nerve pain first affects the toes and surrounding areas, and it may then slowly spread to the rest of the feet and up the legs.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include:

  • tingling, burning, sharp, or shooting pain in the toes or feet
  • the sensation of an electric shock in these areas
  • pain that usually worsens at night, causing sleep disturbances
  • pain when touching the skin

Researchers remain unsure of the exact causes. Some theories point to changes in the blood vessels, the metabolism, the immune system, or the body’s sodium and calcium channels.

Several factors increase the chances of people with diabetes developing neuropathy:

  • advancing age
  • having diabetes for a longer period
  • consuming alcohol
  • using tobacco products

Sciatica

Sciatica happens when something damages or compresses the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in the body. It extends from the lower back, through the buttocks, and down the legs, ending just beneath the knee.

The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated, or bulging, disk in the spine.

While sciatica tends to affect the back, hips, and upper legs first, the pain can spread down the legs into the feet and toes.

Symptoms of sciatica include:

  • back pain on one side
  • pain or a burning sensation in the buttocks
  • leg weakness
  • pain in the leg and foot

The following approaches can help relieve nerve pain in the feet.

Home care strategies

A person may benefit from:

  • using hot or cold packs
  • resting
  • taking over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil)
  • massaging the feet
  • wearing a splint for support

Also, try to avoid sitting or standing for long periods.

Some people find that wearing wide, soft-soled, laced shoes with low heels helps relieve pressure on the feet and nerves.

However, for some people with nerve pain, a firm sole may be more beneficial than a soft sole.

Medical treatments

The best approach depends on the cause of the nerve pain.

To treat peripheral or diabetic neuropathy, doctors may prescribe:

In some situations, a doctor may recommend deep tissue massages and corticosteroid injections to help manage symptoms, especially if the cause is sciatica.

If sciatica results from a hernia, abscess, or tumor, a doctor often refers the person for surgery.

Doctors may also recommend physical therapy, as stretching and strengthening the legs and feet can help manage symptoms, including pain.

Surgery may also benefit people with nerve pain caused by issues other than sciatica. For example, if a person has tarsal tunnel syndrome, treatment may involve surgery to release a nerve. This has a success rate of up to 96%.

First, the doctor takes a history and examines the painful area. They may also request imaging, such as an ultrasound or an MRI.

If they suspect specific conditions, such as peripheral or diabetic neuropathy, the doctor may request participation in a nerve conduction study or blood and other samples for lab tests.

If foot pain threatens to keep a person from taking part in daily activities, they should let a doctor know.

This is especially crucial if an underlying condition, such as diabetes, may be contributing to the pain and other symptoms.

Nerve pain in the foot tends to result from a compressed nerve or diabetes. A range of health issues may be at play, and they tend to cause similar symptoms.

For this reason, receiving a diagnosis is key. It is especially important to contact a doctor if the pain is worsening or home care techniques cannot ease it.

The doctor will work with the person to develop an effective treatment plan. When necessary, surgery tends to have a high success rate.