Once in a while we all have some oddball sensations in our limbs; you foot gets in an awkward position for too long and your body signals you with pain, numbness or tingling. You move, then it’s over. If you are healthy, it’s just temporary.
People with peripheral or foot neuropathy generally describe the pain as stabbing, burning or tingling that occurs frequently and can be debilitating. Luckily in many cases, symptoms improve, especially if caused by a treatable condition. Medications can reduce the pain of peripheral neuropathy.
Causes of Foot Neuropathy
Not a single disease, peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage caused by a number of conditions. Causes of neuropathies include: (in alphabetical order)
- Alcoholism. Poor dietary choices made by people with alcoholism can lead to vitamin deficiencies.
- Autoimmune diseases. These include Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy and necrotizing vasculitis.
- Diabetes. More than half the people with diabetes develop some type of neuropathy.
- Exposure to poisons. Toxic substances include heavy metals or chemicals.
- Medications. Certain medications, especially those used to treat cancer (chemotherapy), can cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Infections. These include certain viral or bacterial infections, including Lyme disease, shingles, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis C, leprosy, diphtheria and HIV.
- Inherited disorders. Disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease are hereditary types of neuropathy.
- Trauma or pressure on the nerve. Traumas, such as from motor vehicle accidents, falls or sports injuries, can sever or damage peripheral nerves.
- Tumors. Growths, cancerous (malignant) and noncancerous (benign), can develop on the nerves or press nerves. Also, polyneuropathy can arise as a result of some cancers related to the body’s immune response. These are a form of paraneoplastic syndrome.
- Vitamin deficiencies. B vitamins — including B-1, B-6 and B-12 — vitamin E and niacin are crucial to nerve health.
- Other diseases. These include kidney disease, liver disease, connective tissue disorders and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), and bone marrow disorders.
Peripheral neuropathy risk factors include:
- Diabetes mellitus, especially if your sugar levels are poorly controlled
- Alcohol abuse
- Vitamin deficiencies, particularly B vitamins
- Infections, such as Lyme disease, shingles, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis C and HIV
- Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, in which your immune system attacks your own tissues
- Kidney, liver or thyroid disorders
- Exposure to toxins
- Repetitive motion, such as those performed for certain jobs
- Family history of neuropathy
Complications to watch out for
When your nerves are not signaling correctly its easy to get other injuries to your feet:
- Burns and skin trauma. You might not feel temperature changes or pain on parts of your body that are numb.
- Infection. Your feet and other areas lacking sensation can become injured without your knowing. Check these areas regularly and treat minor injuries before they become infected, especially if you have diabetes mellitus.
- Falls. Weakness and loss of sensation may be associated with lack of balance and falling.
Manage underlying conditions
The best way to prevent peripheral neuropathy is to manage medical conditions that put you at risk, such as diabetes, alcoholism or rheumatoid arthritis.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein to keep nerves healthy. Protect against vitamin B-12 deficiency by eating meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and fortified cereals.
- Exercise regularly. Try to get at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise at least three times a week.
- Avoid factors that may cause nerve damage, including repetitive motions, cramped positions, exposure to toxic chemicals, smoking and overindulging in alcohol.
Reference resources: Mayo Clinic Staff