Foot pain and back pain

01st Aug 2018

Can foot pain be caused by your back?

Do you suffer from chronic foot pain or feet that feel painful from time to time? You may be wondering if your back pain is caused by foot problems. A proportion of foot pain is due to back issues that refer pain from your back all the way down to your toes.


Compressed nerves and herniated discs

It’s not uncommon for people to have a pain or pins and needles in their foot and not realise that the problem is actually originating in an area of their back, such as the lumber spine. Herniated or slipped discs are a common culprit. They occur when the soft jelly between bones pushes out through a small rupture or tear.

Nerve compression is another cause for referred foot pain. This kind of pain can be excruciating and severe and if it occurs, you should see a specialist. Two of the most common nerves that become compressed in the back are called L5 and S1.


Leg pain

The sciatic nerve has branches that extend all the way from the lower back to the hips, bottom and down each leg. This is why issues affecting the sciatic nerve may end up causing pain in the feet. Triggers often include:

  • A bone spur (outgrowth of bone)
  • Herniated disc
  • Narrowing of the spine with age (which compresses areas of the sciatic nerve).

Other signs of sciatica include pain that:

  • Shoots down into the leg, buttocks and foot—usually on just one side
  • Radiates down the leg and into the foot and toes
  • Worsens when you sit.


Spinal slippage

Foot pain may also be caused by a back condition called degenerative spondylolisthesis, which often occurs in people over 65. This problem arises when a back vertebrae slides forward over the bone below it. This usually occurs in the lower spine and can compress nerves, causing pain that refers from the spine all the way down the foot into the leg.


Ankles and knees

People may have primary arthritis in their knee, ankle or hip that’s also contributing to their foot pain, but it’s equally common to see people who’ve been told their hips are fine, and the problem is in their back. So there’s a lot of crossover.


Shoes problems

Some shoe choices can cause back problems that in turn refer pain back down the leg, triggering chronic pain in the feet. Stiletto heels are particularly problematic. They tilt your pelvis forward which can lead to compression of nerves and issues like sciatica.

Similar back and foot problems can occur from wearing flip-flops and slingback shoes, which lack sufficient support. As a result, your foot slips and your weight distribution changes as your feet, knees, legs hips, bottom and back, brace trying to hold you stable in the shoe. Where possible choose a shoe with good structural support and a low heel.


About Dr Richard Parkinson

Dr Richard Parkinson is a Fellowship trained neurointerventional neurosurgeon and minimally invasive spinal surgeon based in Sydney. He has been performing minimally invasive and complex spinal surgery for 18+ years and has built his reputation on his conservative approach to surgery. He operates at Sydney’s leading private hospitals and has performed surgery on a very significant volume of patients requiring both straight-forward and complex spine surgery. Read his full biography here.