Sciatica is a condition that usually only affects one side of your body, from the hips down. Very frequently, the pain caused by this condition will extend from your lower back to your thigh and on down your leg. In some cases, sciatica can cause foot pain. In this article, we explore the causes and effects of sciatica and provide advice on dealing with foot pain caused by sciatica. Read on to learn more.
What Is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerves are a series of nerves that start at the lower spine and travel down through your legs to your feet. If the roots of these nerves, located at the spine, become compressed or irritated, it can cause pain in your feet. This can also be the case if there is a compressed nerve in your foot, itself, or in your knee or your hip.
If you have nerves irritated or compressed in your lower back (lumbar spine or sacral spine) sciatic pain may result. This pain can radiate through you leg and into your foot. This is especially true if the S1 nerve root is compressed. This is the condition that typically causes sciatica and can result in pain traveling down the outside of your leg and to the outer side of the foot.
Why Do Nerve Roots Get Irritated or Compressed?
There are many reasons why the nerve roots in the lower back may suffer compression or irritation. Among them are:
Does Sciatica Always Cause Foot Pain?
Sciatica may sometimes cause foot pain. For example, nerve damage in the hip or pelvic region (sciatic neuropathy) can cause weakness and pain in the foot, but this is not always the case. Sometimes this condition is present, but foot pain is not.
In other instances, foot pain may be caused by other conditions, for example:
How Can You Tell Where Your Foot Pain Is Coming From?
Think about your foot pain and ask yourself these questions:
1. Have I recently had an injury to my feet, ankle, knee, hip or back?
A recent injury could account for your foot pain. The location of the injury can help you identify the cause.
2. Am I experiencing any other symptoms?
If you are experiencing symptoms such as:
…you are probably dealing with nerve irritation, compression or damage. This is especially true if these symptoms are occurring in your hip, leg or thigh. The location of the symptoms can help you pinpoint the location of the nerve involvement.
3. Is my pain one-sided or bilateral?
Sciatic pain and all its complications usually occur on one side.
4. Does my pain occur after I wear tightly fitting footwear?
If this is the case, your foot pain is probably caused by compression of the sural nerve or peroneal nerve and not by sciatica.
5. Have I had hip surgery or an injection in my hip recently?
When foot pain develops after some sort of hip procedure, sciatic neuropathy may be the cause.
6. Do I have other health complications?
You may experience nerve pain in your foot or feet if you have a condition such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes.
7. Have I stressed my feet recently?
If you have recently overdone exercise, dancing, hiking, yoga or other activities and used your feet in a way in which they are not accustomed, they are very likely to simply be protesting. You may have injured or over-stressed the muscles, tendons, joints, bones and blood vessels in your feet. In this case, rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) should soon put you right.
What Can I Do To Treat Sciatic Pain & Foot Pain?
If you are experiencing sciatic pain and resulting foot pain, you may wish to try alternating heat therapy and ice therapy. The heat will help improve blood flow to your painful lower back and hips, and this can help the area heal. Alternating with ice may help get muscle spasms under control.
When your pain has subsided, be sure to keep moving. Gentle exercise and stretching will help strengthen and heal your lower back, hips and legs.
Be sure to practice good posture at all times. Take frequent breaks (every 15-20 minutes) to walk around and stretch whenever you must work in a seated position.
Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as needed to help reduce pain and inflammation.
When Should I See A Doctor About Foot Pain?
In any event, if RICE or heat and ice protocol do not significantly improve your pain within a day or two, see your doctor. The causes of foot pain can be many and varied. It is extremely important to pinpoint the cause before beginning any treatment. The wrong treatment may have no effect, or it may even make matters worse.