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Anxiety: A Possible Cause of Foot Problems

Close-up of a woman's hand massaging a person's foot
It's a mistake to think that anxiety can't be at the root of your physical pain and discomfort. The truth is anxiety doesn't just cause psychological symptoms. Stress and anxiety can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable physical symptoms, including foot pain. If you can't identify obvious signs and symptoms for your foot pain, it may help to explore how anxiety can cause foot problems.
Increased Pain Sensitivity
Muscles in the body tense when you become anxious. That tenseness can cause muscle aches and pains. Although stress itself doesn't cause pain, the way your body reacts to stress can be a problem.
When you are anxious, your body releases stress hormones that make your blood pump through your veins faster, your heart rate increase and your muscles tense. Over time, chronic anxiety can also increase your sensitivity to pain. Consequently, when your feet hurt, anxiety may intensify the pain.
Focusing on your pain - whether it's in your feet or other part of your body - can make it worse. As your pain worsens, you may become more anxious, which can make your feet hurt even more.
If a podiatrist rules out physical causes for your foot pain and anxiety is a concern, he or she may recommend seeing a mental health professional to help you manage your anxiety disorder. Otherwise, if severe anxiety goes untreated, you can develop other physical health problems.
Chronic Foot and Leg Pain
Many people with anxiety disorders suffer chronic pain disorders such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and middle or lower back pain that radiates down the back of the leg into the foot. Depending on the cause of your pain, your doctor may prescribe medications such as tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat both your chronic pain and anxiety.
Your doctor or podiatrist may also recommend exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, and changes in your diet to help alleviate anxiety and the chronic pain symptoms it can cause. Yoga and meditation are alternative treatment options you may wish to pursue to reduce your anxiety.
Cold Feet
Stress causes blood to flow away from your feet and legs to the vital organs in the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic regions of your body's trunk. Consequently, poor blood circulation in your toes can lead to cold feet.
Raynaud's syndrome can also affect blood supply to the toes. Although cold temperatures are a common trigger, anxiety and stress can also cause cold feet, numbness, a tingling sensation and pain. Triggers of Raynaud's syndrome cause blood vessels in the feet to narrow, reducing blood flow to the toes.
When you have a Raynaud's attack, the skin on the affected area turns white and then blue. Your toes will also feel cold and numb. Once blood flow begins to return to your toes, the skin turns red and you may feel a stinging or burning sensation in your toes.
Rapid Breathing and Foot Problems
Anxiety is one cause of hyperventilation. When you breathe faster than normal, you can get short of breath or feel your heart pounding. You may even experience numbness and tingling in your hands or feet. Although certain medical conditions, such as lung diseases, can cause hyperventilation, anxiety and stress often are contributing factors.
Hyperventilation causes you to exhale more than you inhale, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in your body. Low levels of carbon dioxide cause blood vessels to narrow and reduce blood supply to the brain.
Rapid breathing can also cause calcium levels in your blood to drop. This decrease in calcium can cause symptoms such as painful muscle spasms and cramps in the hands and feet or numbness and tingling in the arms.
If you don't know what's making your feet hurt, a podiatrist at Greenville Podiatry Associates PA will assess your symptoms and examine your feet to diagnose the problem. He or she will then recommend the treatment options that will best help you.