What can be done for burning, painful feet?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I have an elderly male friend who has burning, hot, extremely painful feet all the time. At night it is really bad and it keeps him awake with terrible burning between his toes and on the soles of his feet. He says it feels like his feet are being whipped with a cord. He has seen doctors but they have no idea what this terrible hot, burning, whipping pain is. Would you be able to give some advice on what it could be and how it could be treated? Thanks for the help, it is much appreciated. Sandra

Expert Answer

Jane Andersen, DPM, is a board-certified podiatrist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She provides surgical and nonsurgical foot and ankle care to all types of patients, including the geriatric population in her area. With the American Podiatric Medical Association, she has worked to educate the public on foot and ankle health.

Your friend's burning feet can be caused by a variety of reasons. Peripheral neuropathy is the most likely cause. Peripheral neuropathy is a disease that can cause numbness, tingling, or terrible burning in the feet, especially at night. Neuropathy has many causes, including diabetes, alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiencies and chemotherapy to name just a few. Often, an underlying cause is never identified, and it is called idiopathic neuropathy.
Your friend should be seen by a neurologist for testing to determine if neuropathy is indeed the correct diagnosis and to discuss possible treatments. There are several medications used to treat painful neuropathy that may improve his quality of life.

You also might want to check his feet for any skin changes. If there is evidence of cracking, redness, scaling or blisters, it may indicate athlete's foot (aka tinea pedis). This type of skin infection is caused by a fungus, and can cause burning pain in the areas you described. If those changes are present, he can start with an over the counter antifungal (such as Lotrimin or Lamisil). He can also see his podiatrist for a diagnosis and prescription antifungal if needed.