Burning feet and what this could mean


A close-up of female feet in water on beach, summer holiday concept.

Have you ever been woken up because your feet felt like they were on fire?

Hot feet can be a sign that there’s something wrong. The burning, hot sensation can also be accompanied by a tingling feeling.


One condition that demonstrates these symptoms is peripheral neuropathy, which involves nerve damage. Our feet carry lots of nerves in them. Avid walkers or athletes can often suffer with feet problems, due to the extra pressure and hard wear they put them through.


Nerve damage can mean messages from the brain struggle to get through to the relevant part of the body. A range of things could cause nerve damage, such as trauma, complications after surgery, some medications, a spinal problem, or after an illness, e.g. shingles, Lyme disease or diabetes. Burning feet can also arise from continued alcohol excess, which can also result in nerve damage.


The nutrients we consume can play a part in the health of our feet. For instance, a diet that’s very rich and includes a lot of red meat can cause a build up of acid in our bodies. This can result in a condition called gout, which was quite common amongst the elite in medieval times, because of how much rich food, meat and alcohol they consumed. Gout is the inflammation of the toe joints, but it can also wake you up in the middle of the night with the feeling that your big toe is literally alight.


On the flipside of this, if your diet is deficient in some nutrients, burning feet syndrome can develop. During the Second World War, American prisoners of war reportedly suffered with this condition as a result of the malnutrition they endured. A deficiency of B-6 and B-12 could see the condition occur— it’s therefore common amongst the elderly, particularly those that don’t enjoy a range of foods or a nutritious diet.


Athlete’s foot is another common condition that has burning feet as one of its symptoms, along with itchiness and cracked, peeling skin. As we described here, athlete’s foot is a fungal infection. Bacteria thrives in moist, warm places, such as in-between toes, and it can be easily transferred in public places where people walk barefoot, such as gyms and swimming pools.


The jobs people have can make them prone to burning feet and/or nerve damage. For example, people working with industrial chemicals can absorb toxins over time, which causes such damage. This applies to chemotherapy for the same reason; though the mix of medicine and chemicals ultimately helps to kills off cancerous cells, side effects can include nerve damage.


Why do my feet burn more at night-time?


Closeup image of a woman's feet on a white bed

There’s no definitive answer to this. It could be that you notice the pain more when you’re trying to relax and go to sleep, rather than when you’re on your feet at work or you’re going about your daily business with all your distractions.


It could also be because you’re laying horizontally in bed, as opposed to during the day, when all your weight is carried by your feet. Taking the pressure off your feet allows the nerves to decompress and the pain messages to finally rush through to your brain. When you’re asleep, your body tries to repair itself and heal the impact of everything you’ve done that day. This could also result in your pain receptors firing into action.


Another reason could be down to your medication. If you take painkillers to manage your discomfort, these will eventually wear off; and, if you wake up in the early hours, your medication may no longer be dulling the pain and any burning will feel more acute as a result.


Solutions include moderating your sugar intake during the evening (particularly for diabetics), doing a few exercises before bed to improve your circulation and induce better blood flow, and soaking your feet in warm (not hot) water to relax nerves and muscles.


We’re specialists when it comes to your feet, as qualified podiatrists. If you’re experiencing any discomfort in this area, book an appointment with us in the first instance. Call 01226 492412 (Wombwell) or 0113 238 0330 (Morley).


Alternatively, you could use our online contact form here