Could a Spine Issue Lead to Foot Pain?

Medically Reviewed by NJ Spine & Orthopedic on June 15, 2024

Foot pain is more often associated with ill-fitted shoes or other issues like tendonitis or arthritis. However, there are cases where your foot pain may be linked to spine problems, and you may not even know it. Here, we’ll explore how the spine and foot are linked.

However, there are cases where your foot pain may be linked to spine problems, which can cause foot pain, and you may not even know it. Conditions affecting the spinal cord and nerve roots, particularly in the lumbar spine, can result in painful sensations, weakness, and numbness that radiate from the spine into the foot.

What Does a Spine Look Like?

Before we get into foot pain and what’s causing it, it’s important to go over the anatomy of the spine. There are five sections to our spine, and they are:

  • Cervical (neck), C1 to C7
  • Thoracic (middle back), T1 to T12
  • Lumbar (lower back), L1 to L5
  • Sacrum (pelvis), S1 to S5
  • Coccyx (tailbone)

Our spine is made up of 33 individual vertebrae, which are all joined together to form the spinal column. The first 24 vertebrae are moveable, and the vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx are fused. The spinal cord starts at your brainstem and travels down your back before splitting off into each leg.

How Are My Spine and Sciatic Nerves Causing Foot Pain?

Spinal nerves from your lower spine go through your legs and end in your feet. Conditions such as a herniated disc can lead to nerve compression, causing foot pain. Foot pain can occur if the nerve root—the part that exits the lumbar spine—is irritated or compressed in the lower back area. This could lead to pain down your spine, into your leg, and settling in your foot. Nerve roots can be damaged in a variety of different ways, but some common ways are:

  • Leaking of contents in an intervertebral disc
  • Age-related narrowing or shrinking of a disc
  • A vertebra slipping over or below another

Nerve compression can result from these conditions, leading to pain, tingling, weakness, and numbness in the leg and foot.

Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve, or one of the associated nerves, is pinched or compressed. It’s typically the cause when the lower back is the source of foot pain. Spinal stenosis, a condition where the spinal column narrows, can also compress spinal nerves and cause foot pain.

Symptoms of Foot Pain Resulting from Spine and Nerve Root Irritation

If you also have pain or numbness in your leg in addition to the foot, it’s likely the pain is coming from the lower back region of the spine. Nerve pain can manifest as tingling, weakness, numbness, or shooting pain in the foot. Some pain may include nerve root irritation, which can cause symptoms like foot drop and sciatica.

Difficulty Walking on Tiptoes

If the pain is on the bottom of your foot, the condition may be from the sciatic nerve’s S1 nerve root. This specific root affects your calf muscle, which could make walking and other everyday activities a challenge.

Foot Drop

Foot drop is when there is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot, causing it to drag on the ground when walking. Foot drop can be caused by nerve root irritation or compression in the lumbar or sacral spine. The condition is not a disease but rather a sign of neurological issues. Foot drops could be temporary or permanent. You may need to wear a brace to hold your foot in the correct position.

Foot drop can also be from a lower back nerve that produces pain through the calf and ends in the big toe.

Heel Walk

Heel walk is a limited ability to bring the foot upward, and it can also cause numbness in the lower leg and foot. This condition primarily appears when a nerve connected to the sciatic nerve—a major nerve that begins in the lower back and extends through the thigh—is impacted.

How to Identify Foot Pain

With so many different causes of foot pain, it may be hard to narrow down the specific reason. Foot pain can also be caused by conditions that compress nearby spinal nerves, leading to symptoms like tingling and numbness. One of the most common ways to determine where the source of pain comes from is to think of any recent injuries to the lower back, hip, or thigh. This will help you pinpoint the source of the injury.

When to Schedule a Doctor’s Visit

You should schedule a doctor’s appointment if your foot is swollen, hurting for a few days, or experiencing tingling, numbness, or a burning sensation. Before visiting the doctor, don’t do any activities that could irritate the foot more and alternate between cold and hot packs on the injured area.

If you think the origin of your pain is in the lower back, you should consult with a back doctor who specializes in reducing pain and helping patients lead fulfilling lives while managing their conditions. Treatments for foot pain may vary depending on where the injury is.

Leading Back Doctors in NJ Can Help Identify Your Spinal Trauma

At New Jersey Spine and Orthopedic, our board-certified doctors are highly recommended and treat a wide range of conditions. Our surgeons combine advanced technology with a patient-centered approach to ensure our patients receive the best possible outcomes. Call us today at (866) 553-0612 or fill out our contact form to learn more about our minimally invasive treatments today!

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