If you are experiencing foot pain, you’ve no doubt checked out the foot itself to make sure it isn’t injured or experiencing trouble due to improperly fitting shoes, corns, plantar fasciitis, etc. It seems counterintuitive, but have you checked the condition of your lumbar spine (lower back)? While most foot problems are caused by issues within the foot itself, you might be surprised to find that the sciatic nerve can cause intense foot pain.
What is sciatic nerve pain?
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and consists of five nerves that combine in the lower spine and then extend all the way down the backs of the legs to the toes. If the lumbar spine is compressing, it presses on the sciatic nerve, causing pain to radiate down the leg and, in some cases, all the way into the big toe. (Foot pain without any leg pain is almost always due to an issue located within the foot, although it is possible that foot pain is the only symptom of sciatica.)
Sciatica can be caused by lumbar spine disc herniation, lumbar spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis among others. Certain types of sciatica present differently according to which disc in the spine is affected. If the L5 disc is compressed, Foot Drop may occur. Foot Drop refers to the heavy, weak feeling that makes flexing the foot seem impossible. Foot Drop most often results in pain radiating down along the outside of the leg, crossing over the foot and into the big toe. But if it’s the S1 nerve root that is affected, the pain in the foot is likely on the sole of the foot. It is important to have an accurate diagnosis in order to address the pain properly.
So, what to do about your pain?
Obviously, addressing the root cause is important. Nearly three million people a year suffer from sciatic pain/dysfunction. An experienced chiropractor or physician will give you exercises to help lengthen and stretch the spine, and massage, acupuncture, and medication are all helpful in the management of sciatic pain. As far as your foot pain goes, your doctor will be able to tell you which treatment will be most effective.
Treatment for foot pain runs the gamut from rest and ice to physical therapy. Reflexology can provide relief, as can stretching exercises. Over-the-counter pain relievers are often used, and your physician may prescribe some non-addictive pain medication if your pain is so intense that it is preventing you from sleeping. Remember to wear shoes with good arch supports, and if the pain persists, see a podiatrist for custom-made orthotics to insert in your shoes. (Insurance often covers the orthotics.)
Last, but not least, don’t forget that most pain in the body is caused by inflammation and can be helped by an anti-inflammatory diet and addressing lifestyle stressors. Concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods and stay away from sugar, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and white flour. Make sure you are drinking enough water each day, and aim for eight hours of sleep each night. Bringing the body back into balance is one of the most effective ways to address inflammation.