Burning legs and feet can make you pretty uncomfortable not to mention interrupt your daily routine, especially if the problem occurs at night. Depending on the underlying cause, it may occur on a specific area of the leg only (e.g. above the knee), or affect the entire leg. Burning legs may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as numbness. Discussed herein are some of the most common cause of burning sensation in the legs.
Burning Legs Causes
Burning legs are usually a symptom of damage, infection, or injury to a sensory nerve. The duration of the burning sensation varies depending on the underlying cause and so does the exact location of the burning. Causes of burning legs include:
1. Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral nerves connect and relay signals (messages) from your brain and spinal cord to the internal organs as well as muscles and skin in the legs, feet, hands, arms, mouth and face.
Peripheral neuropathy occurs when these nerves get damage or destroyed and thus lose their function.
When that happens, the nerves became overactive and send pain signals to the brain when there is actually no pain-inflicting wound or skin damage. They might also not send a pain signal when there is something that normally causes pain e.g. a wound.
Here are some common underlying factors for peripheral neuropathy and the often accompanying burning legs:
- Diabetes: Both types 1 and 2 diabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy. This happens when the high level of blood sugar associated with diabetes causes nerve damage in the long-run. For cases involving diabetes, the term diabetic polyneuropathy is used.
- Alcoholism: Alcoholism joins diabetes in the list of the two top causes of peripheral neuropathy, says the WebMD.
- Use of certain medications. Peripheral neuropathy is often a side-effect of certain medications including chemotherapy drugs, metformin, amiodarone, isoniazid, HIV medicines, and Zoloft (Sertraline). Vitamin B6 overdose can also cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Nerve injury. Physical injury to the peripheral nerves can also cause burning legs.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome. This is a rare autoimmune nerve disorder, whereby the body’s immune system attack the nerves. The burning sensation in legs may be worse at night.
- Viral infections. Shingles (herpes zoster) is one common culprit for peripheral neuropathy and thus burning sensation in lower legs.
- Idiopathic. Some cases of peripheral neuropathy have no known cause.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Lyme disease: This causes a burning sensation in the feet and lower legs.
- Chronic renal (kidney) failure.
Treatment of Peripheral NeuropathyTreatment for peripheral neuropathy and the accompanying burning legs involves stopping further nerve damage by addressing the underlying cause. Addressing the symptoms is also helpful, especially for cases with no known cause. Here are some common treatment approaches:
- Control diabetes. For burning legs due to diabetes, treatment involves regulating Blood sugar levels through diet modification, medications, and insulin injection. Important also is to stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake, and control your weight through an appropriate exercise regime.
- Vitamin B12 intake. You can either take vitamin B12 tablets orally or get injections of the same.
- Change of medications. This is necessary if burning legs are a side effect of a given medication.
- Nerve pain relief medications. According to the NHS Choices, common painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are usually ineffective for peripheral neuropathy. Neuropathic pain agents such as amitriptyline, duloxetine, and Carbamazepine.
2. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
The actual cause of MS is not yet known, but researchers believe that it begins when the body’s immune system attacks myelin. This is a protective fatty tissue layer that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers.
When attacked, myelin gets inflamed, with scar tissues and lesions. Consequently, the ability of the brain to send electrical impulses to the rest of the body is hampered. This may manifest itself in burning legs
Symptoms of Multiple SclerosisThe symptoms vary greatly from one individual to another and between periods of the year, month or even day. They may also come and go during the early stages.
According to the HealthLine, fatigue and difficulty walking are the symptoms seen the most in patients. These two symptoms are estimated to manifest in about 80 percent of MS cases.
Symptoms seen in early stages of multiple sclerosis include:
- Eyesight problems, including blurred and double vision, and color distortions.
- Tightness in the belly or chest. You feel as though someone is hugging you tightly. According to WebMD, this feeling may become more severe after exercise, with changes in temperature, or at night.
In later stages, the following symptoms are usually seen:
- Weakened muscles. This coupled with difficulty in balancing tends to make walking difficult.
- Slurred speech.
- Abnormal sensations, ranging from numbness to tingling and burning legs and feet.
- Memory loss.
- Concentration and judgment problems.
Treatment of Burning Legs Due To Multiple SclerosisBurning legs due to multiple sclerosis usually get relieved once the condition has been addressed. There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis. Several treatments are however available to slow down the progression of the disease as well as reduce and shorten the relapses.
- Oral and injectable medications. Several medications are used for treatment of the condition ranging from oral and injectable medications such as dimethyl-fumarate and Avonex respectively.
- Intravenous (IV) infusion drugs such as alemtuzumab may also be prescribed.
- NSAIDs can also be used to control myelin inflammation, says the RightDiagnosis.com. Examples are Ibuprofen and Naprosyn.
- Medicated gels and creams. Sold over the counter, these topical preparations can as well help to block and stop burning sensation in the legs, feet, hands or arms. Some contain capsaicin while others contain lidocaine.
Because of the greatly varying symptoms of multiple sclerosis, treatment approaches also varies from one patient to another.
3. Blood Vessel Disorders
Here are some possible underlying causes:
Peripheral Artery DiseaseOne common underlying culprit for burning legs is a condition known as Peripheral artery disease (PAD).
As the name suggests, PAD is characterized by the narrowing of the arteries occurring outside the heart and brain. There are two possible underlying causes of peripheral artery disease:
- Raynaud’s syndrome: The condition is characterized by intermittent spasms of the blood vessels, which then causes them to narrow down.
- Atherosclerosis: This refers to the accumulation of fatty deposits or plaque in the walls of the arteries.
Some conditions and lifestyle choices may put you at higher risk of PAD including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
If caused by PAD, burning legs will stop when you stop moving or exercising. This is due to reduced demand for blood in the muscles.
Deep vein ThrombosisDeep vein thrombosis, or just DVT, can also cause a burning sensation in one leg. The condition occurs when a blood clot forms inside a vein occurring deep inside the body following a long period of inactivity. Long car rides and flight are common causative factors.
According to Benjamin Wedro, MD, an emergency physician practicing at Gundersen Clinic, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, deep vein thrombosis cause the affected leg to swell and turn bluish in color.
The burning sensation kicks in slowly over the course of a few hours.
4. Restless Leg Syndrome
The name is derived from the irresistible urge to move your legs, especially at night, associated with the condition. This is coupled with uncomfortable sensations in your legs and sometimes arms, face, or chest.
About the sensation, some people speak of burning, tingling, or itchy sensation in the legs. Others describe the feeling as “creepy-crawl” while others liken the feeling in their legs to fizzy water bubbling inside their blood vessels.
Some cases of restless leg syndrome have no known causes, but RLS has been linked to the following factors:
- Low levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain
- Iron deficiency.
- Chronic health conditions including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, underactive thyroid gland, fibromyalgia, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Pregnancy. According to NHS Choices, RLS is seen more commonly during pregnancy. The symptoms typically go away within 4 weeks of delivery.
- The following factors can trigger the onset of restless leg syndrome, while not causing it per se:
- Certain medications, especially antihistamines and those used to treat depression, high blood pressure (calcium blockers) and bipolar disorder (antipsychotics).
- Obesity or being overweight
- Lack of exercise
Treatment of restless leg syndrome and any burning legs sensation associated with it may involve the prescription of medications such as dopamine agonists (e.g. ropinirole), painkillers, hypnotics such as loprazolam (to help you sleep), and Levodopa. Calm Legs Restless Legs Relief is a great natural product for RLS alleviation.
Home remedies for RLSFor burning legs due to RLS, the following home remedies and tips can help:
- Massage your legs
- Take a hot bath before bed.
- Apply a cool compress (washcloth dampened with cool water) on your legs when RLS kicks in.
- Take on mind-distracting activities such as reading a novel, watching TV, etc.
- Make love. According to the WebMD, making love has been found to ease restless leg syndrome by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain.
- Walk around or stretch your legs.
- Exercise regularly.
- Cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco in the evening hours, if not stay away from these (especially smoking) completely.
5. Other Possible Causes of Burning Legs:
- Chemical and heat burns
- Back problems, especially sciatica (inflammation of sciatic nerve). This affects one leg and the burning sensation or pain can extend or the way down to the feet and toes.
- Electrolyte imbalance. Burning legs can occur when the balance of mineral such as magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium is hampered. Factors such as dehydration, kidney disease, diarrhea, and use of certain medications can cause this.
- Meralgia paresthetica. This describes a condition where the lateral cutaneous nerve becomes trapped and compressed. It may be to blame for a burning sensation in the outer thigh.
- Everydayhealth.com: Managing Sensory Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
- HealthLine: Peripheral Neuropathy
- HealthLine: Understanding Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Medscape: Guillain-Barre Syndrome Clinical Presentation
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society: MS Symptoms
- NHS Choices: Peripheral Neuropathy
- NHS Choices: Restless Leg Syndrome
- RightDiagnosis.com: Intermittent Claudication
- RightDiagnosis.com: Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
- WebMD: Burning Feet
- WebMD: 4 Ways to Keep RLS from Hurting Your Sex Life