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What causes foot pain without injury? How do I know if it’s serious? These are two of the most frequently asked questions by people experiencing some type of foot pain but aren’t quite sure where it’s stemming from. It can be alarming, especially if you haven’t engaged in any physical activity that would warrant it.
What you might not be aware of is that foot pain could signal a more serious underlying condition, which at first glance may not appear any way related to your feet. For instance, a problem with your thyroid – which is a gland located in your neck – may affect the nerves responsible for sensation in your feet. Sciatic nerve damage in your lower back may cause excruciating pain in the backside of your leg to your big toe.
In both cases, the pain in your foot is indicative of a more serious problem that might otherwise go unnoticed. This guide examines the complex relationship between foot pain and conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Gout, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).
What Does MS Foot Pain Feel Like?
MS is an auto-immune disorder. This means that an individual’s immune system, which is supposed to protect the body against potentially damaging foreign bodies, mistakenly turns on itself and begins to attack parts of the body that are vital to everyday function.
In MS, the body’s immune system attacks the protective insulation that exists around the nerve cells in the spinal cord, optic nerves, and the brain. Different people with this condition experience pain differently. MS foot pain symptoms, for instance, could range from a mild tingle or stabbing pain to a full-on burning spasm.
How Are MS and Foot Pain Related?
A common complication of MS with regards to feet is a condition that doctors refer to as erythromelalgia. It is a disorder that affects the feet and is characterized by intermittent episodes (flares) of intense burning pain in the extremities.
The skin becomes extremely red with an unusually high temperature and is usually accompanied by swelling. Affected individuals also report experiencing tingling pain and other symptoms commonly associated with peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage).
In other cases, some people with MS experience musculoskeletal pain in the joints of the hips, knees, legs, and feet, mainly due to extended periods of immobility and spasmodic pain in the flexors. These make the foot feel like it has a constant dull ache or cramp.
What Is the Best Remedy for MS and Foot Pain Relief?
If you suffer from MS, here are a few self-care measures you can take to relieve nerve and foot pain.
- Hot/cold compression massage therapy to reduce pain and increase mobility
- Treatment for erythromelalgia includes:
- Wearing compression socks
- Elevating the feet
- Soaking feet in cool or lukewarm water
- Swimming (if possible)
- Light stretching exercises for the back and feet
What’s the Link Between Gout and Foot Pain?
Gout is a type of arthritis (joint inflammation) brought about by high levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. In the body’s attempt to remove excess amounts of this toxic substance, uric acid collects in the joints of the body and crystallizes, causing severe and episodic pain. It also collects in the kidneys, causing kidney stones.
Does Gout Pain Move Around the Foot?
More often than not, deposits of uric acid usually collect in the joints of the big toe, although they may also accumulate in other joints of the foot like the ankles. When flares occur, what might initially start as intense gout pain on top of the foot in the middle of the night, may feel like it’s radiating to other joints as well.
This is especially the case after consuming foods that have the potential to generate high uric acid levels in the body. The best course of action to take when this happens is to act fast and minimize gout flares in the other joints of the body.
What Is the Best Pain Relief for Gout in Foot Joints?
Here’s what you should do in the wake of a painful gout attack.
- Take an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like naproxen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin and any other medication that is high in acetylsalicylic acid
- If the NSAID fails to relieve pain, take Prednisolone or Colchicine which your doctor may have previously prescribed
- Apply ice to the inflamed joint
- Drinks lots of water throughout the day
- Elevate the joint and keep pressure off the affected foot until the pain subsides
- Avoid high-purine diets
Why Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Foot Pain?
RA is an auto-immune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks an individual’s joints causing pain, inflammation, and swelling. When the condition affects the joints in the feet, the pain usually starts at the toes before spreading. This causes severe foot damage in the long term and eventually changes the shape of the toes and feet.
Other RA foot pain symptoms include:
- Constant soreness or aching in the feet especially after standing for long periods, running, or walking
- Increased temperature in one or more regions of the foot
- Pain or stiffness in the ligaments and joints of the whole foot
The severity of rheumatoid arthritis foot pain at night or in the morning ultimately depends on the flare-cycle and the degree of joint damage an individual already has. Many people with RA also report experiencing worse RA joint pain at night compared to during the day. This can be attributed to low levels of cortisol hormone, which is known to have anti-inflammatory effects.
What Is the Best Pain Relief for RA Foot Pain?
While there’s no known cure for RA, there are medications that a doctor can prescribe to manage the symptoms. They include:
- Biologic Response Modifiers like golimumab, adalimumab, and tocilizumab
- Corticosteroids like prednisone
- Disease-modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) like leflunomide and hydroxychloroquine
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs
If the medication does little to prevent or, at the very least, slow down joint damage, surgery to repair these joints may be recommended. The procedure may involve:
- Joint fusion
- Synovectomy – removal of the inflamed joint lining
- Tendon repair
- Total joint replacement
Other remedies for RA foot pain relief may involve physical and occupational therapies to help keep the affected joints flexible. It may also involve the use of assistive devices to avoid straining painful joints.
If you suffer from MS, RA or gout and are experiencing foot pain, we’ve got your back!