Foot pain is more often a result of injury, wearing ill-fitting shoes or physical issues within the foot, such as tendonitis, arthritis or bursitis. However, in some cases, pain in your foot may be linked to problems in your spine. There are some revealing signs of foot pain caused by a problem in your spine, such as your foot feeling heavy, difficulty raising your foot up, leg pain, numbness, weakness and problem walking on your tiptoes.
Studies have shown that spinal dysfunction, like a narrowing of the spinal canal or spinal stenosis, pinches and squeezes on the spinal nerves in your lower back, causing leg pain that radiates down to your feet.
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis
- Facet joint arthritis that enlarges the facet joints
The kind of pain felt depends on the location of the spinal dysfunction, like a problematic L3-L4 spinal area would cause pain in the front of the thigh, the frontal area of the knee, the shin, and/or the foot. If you suspect that your foot pain may be because of a spinal issue, you should discuss with your physician to consider any of the above spinal dysfunctions. After an initial medical checkup, your physician may direct you to a spine specialist for further examination.
There may be a variety of spinal disc problems, like torn disc, slipped disc, disc protrusion or collapsed disc that could lead to associated pain, and such pathologies are often used interchangeably or sometimes referred to separately, as herniated or bulging disc. With a herniated disc, more often it is not the disc itself that is painful, but rather the leaking inner disc fluid that irritates a nearby nerve, causing radicular or nerve root pain.
This radicular pain from the pinched nerve may travel from the lower back to other parts of the body, such as down the leg or the arm. When the leg or foot pain is a direct result of problems in the disc space itself, the patient is said to have a degenerated disc, which typically causes axial pain.
The five sciatic nerves join at the base of the spine and extend down the back of each leg to the toes. The sciatic nerves connect the spinal cord to many muscles in the leg and foot. When the sciatic nerves become irritated from any associated lower back problem, which pinches on the nerve roots, instead of back pain, it may cause leg and foot pain known as sciatica.
Degenerative spondylolisthesis is a low back condition, found commonly in people over age 65, because of a slipped vertebral body that goes forward over the one below it. TA degenerative spondylolisthesis typically occurs at either the L4-L5 level of the lower spine or the L3-L4 level of the lumbar spine. It rarely develops at other levels of the spine, but may take hold at two levels or even three levels simultaneously.
This condition is a result of aging where the spinal bones, joints and ligaments become weakened and are unable to hold together the alignment of the spinal column. When the vertebra slips it compromises the spine segment, it also leads to a pinched nerve that radiates pain down the leg and into the foot.
Facet joint arthritis
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joint that causes symptoms such as pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness of joints, finally leading to soft tissue damage in the body. Physical disabilities from various forms of arthritis affect the lives of over 50 million people in the United States.
Unlike the general perception, arthritis is not just an age disease. It also causes distress to nearly a half million children too. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of disabling and painful arthritis that affects the joints of the weight bearing bones such as the hips and knees, as well as those of the spine, hands and feet.
With time, small bony growths or osteophytes form on the facet joints and around the vertebrae, as a response to joint instability. But the formation of these osteophytes further destabilizes the spine and causes further pain. The bone spurs enlarge and cuts further into the space for the nerves to pass called spinal stenosis, prodding and entrapping the nerves passing through the spinal structure. This pain can radiate down from the spine to the foot and leg.
These are some of the spinal problems that can result in foot pain. It is advisable to get a proper diagnosis from a spine specialist to find the specific potential lower back conditions that may be causing your foot pain.
- Find a spine physician
- Find a podiatrist or podiatric surgeon
- Request an appointment or second opinion
- Learn more about spine and back care at IBJI
- Learn about physical therapy
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The blog is for general information and educational purposes only regarding musculoskeletal conditions. The information provided does not constitute the practice of medicine or other healthcare professional services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor-patient relationship is formed. Readers with musculoskeletal conditions should seek the advice of their healthcare professionals without delay for any condition they have. The use of the information is at the reader’s own risk. The content is not intended to replace diagnosis, treatment or medical advice from your treating healthcare professional.