Foot pain can be an indication or result of a plethora of issues. Overuse, friction, injury, or inflammation in the ligaments, tendons or bones may be the culprit. High heels or tight shoes may pinch nerves in the foot, causing discomfort. People with foot abnormalities such as flat feet, bunions, hammertoes, or unusually flexible feet are more likely to suffer from neuromas. Sometimes, though, the source of foot pain is not within the foot itself but farther away in a seemingly unrelated area of the body.
Surprisingly, nerve pain in the foot may originate in the lumbar spine — the lower back. An underlying medical condition involving this region could incite painful sciatica symptoms that travel along the sciatic nerve in the leg down into the foot. Sciatica manifests when the sciatic nerve is compressed. Common causes include:
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis: A vertebra slips out of place over the one below it. This generally transpires as a part of aging.
- Isthmic spondylolisthesis: A vertebra slips forward on the one below it due to a fissure in a bone attached to the two joints on the spinal segment. The fracture is more likely a result of cumulative stress rather than trauma.
- Lumbar herniated disc: The inner core of a disc pushes through its outer core, causing pressure on the nerve root and sending pain down the sciatic nerve.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis: More common among older patients, the vertebrae begin to narrow and compress or choke the spinal nerve roots, causing numbness, tingling and weakness in the foot.
The sciatic nerve is the body’s largest single nerve. It is actually comprised of five nerves that conjoin in the lower region of the spine. The sciatic nerve traverses down each leg to the toes, connecting the spinal cord with many leg and foot muscles. When this giant nerve is impacted, the symptoms known as sciatica may develop as discomfort in the leg or foot.
How is it possible to pinpoint a lumbar spine issue as the root of the problem? The main sign to look for is foot pain accompanied by leg pain. Other indications include foot drop and difficulty walking on tiptoes or bringing the foot up. Also, lumbar spine-related foot problems tend to affect only one side of the body. If pain persists in both feet, sciatica is not likely to be the underlying condition.
Consult your physician as soon as possible to obtain a proper diagnosis. It is important to determine the actual cause of your pain and the best treatment instead of simply alleviating the symptoms. Treatment protocols for foot pain vary immensely — from more comfortable shoes to microdiscectomy — so the right diagnosis does matter. Fortunately, most sciatica cases recover without surgery within 6 to 12 weeks.