Has this happened to you? You have gone through your normal bedtime routine and have drifted off to sleep comfortably. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, pain in your foot jars you awake.
While most foot pain occurs during the day while we are up and moving around on our feet, some conditions can cause us discomfort at night while we are trying to sleep. Let’s look at some of the common problems that can cause nighttime foot pain and what you can do about it.
Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder of the nerves that can cause pain and numbness in the hands and feet. With peripheral neuropathy, you may begin by feeling some numbness in your middle toes and in the balls of your feet after a day spent on your feet.
After awakening you, the pain usually lessens if you get up and walk around a bit, but it usually returns after you lie down again.
Many medical disorders have been linked to peripheral neuropathy, including diabetes, shingles, certain cancers, immune disorders, kidney failure and vitamin deficiency as well as the use of some prescription drugs.
While the specific cause is difficult to determine, doctors do know that the disorder causes partial to complete interruption of the inner core of the nerve fiber (axon) in the foot or ankle.
In many cases of people with foot or ankle neuropathy, doctors have discovered a constriction of this canal and a thickening of a ligament that compresses the nerves. In severe cases, surgeons have been successfully able to decompress the trapped nerves of the foot.
• Regular gentle exercise, including walking, yoga and tai chi.
• Healthy eating with essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to overall wellness. A deficiency in Vitamin B-12 has been linked with neuropathy.
• Limit your alcohol consumption. Research shows that excessive alcohol may worsen peripheral neuropathy.
• If you have diabetes, carefully monitoring your blood glucose levels may improve your neuropathy.
Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the tissue around the nerves leading to the toes. Sometimes called interdigital neuroma, the condition often develops when the bones in the third and fourth toes become pinched and then compress a nerve.
The nerve becomes inflamed and enlarged, causing a burning or tingling sensation, cramping, and numbness. The pain, which can worsen at night, can be aggravated by improperly fitting shoes as well as by foot problems such as hammertoes, mallet toes, and bunions.
Changes in footwear alone often can provide immediate relief from Morton’s neuroma. Look for shoes that provide more room in the toe area, such as box-toed shoes. Avoid high heels and tight shoes in favor of low-heeled or flat shoes with soft soles.
Additionally, custom shoe inserts and orthotic pads also can relieve pain and irritation by lifting and separating the bones, thereby reducing pressure on the nerve. Massage in the painful area also can be effective in reducing pain.
If you experience a throbbing pain in your foot that builds throughout the day and worsens at night, you may be suffering from a pinched nerve inside your ankle or heel.
Research indicates that a common cause of chronic heel pain is nerve entrapment. Frequently a nerve problem is misdiagnosed because the entrapment or “pinching” is taking place in another part of the body, such as the lower back.
If a nerve root in the lower back is compressed, it can cause pain to travel along the sciatic nerve into the leg and foot. The sciatic nerve extends down the back of each leg all the way to the toes and connects the spinal cord with the many of the muscles in the leg and foot.
A pinched nerve can be the result of repetitive motions or from holding your body in one position for a long period. If nerve compression lasts for a long time, the protective barrier around that nerve may break down, causing swelling and numbness in that area. The resulting pain may worsen at night.
Treatment for a pinched nerve varies depending on the severity of your pain. Sometimes rest is all you need to do. Exercises to stretch and strengthen muscles can help as can avoiding the repetitive or restricting activities that caused the compression in the first place.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Are you bothered by an overwhelming urge to move your legs when you lie down at night or do aching, tingling sensations or involuntary jerking motion in your legs and feet wake you up at night?
If so, you may have restless legs syndrome (RLS), an annoying but treatable condition. Studies estimate that as many as one in 10 people have RLS, but unfortunately, many of us live with it rather than seek treatment.
In addition, RLS is often misdiagnosed. Left untreated, however, RLS can negatively impact the quality of your life and the life of your partner.
Scientists believe that RLS is caused by an imbalance of dopamine, a chemical in the body that transmits signals between the brain and nerve cells. Thought to be genetic, RLS is more common in older adults and women. Conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, iron deficiency and kidney failure can trigger RLS. About 20 percent of women experience temporary RLS during pregnancy.
Ideas for limiting RLS include wearing compression socks or stockings, sleeping with a pillow between your legs and doing simple leg stretching exercises throughout the day.
In conclusion, if nighttime foot pain is a recurring problem that is interfering with your sleep to the point that it is affecting your daily activities, it is time to seek medical attention. Be sure to keep track of any details in your condition that will help your doctor diagnose the problem. With proper care and treatment, a good night’s sleep can be in your future.