Let’s start by saying that not every shooting pain is from a pinched nerve and so when it comes to pain in the foot from running, we first need to find out if it is, in fact, from a pinched nerve. With all the bones, ligaments, and muscles involved in the movement of the ankle joint and considering our feet are what connect us with the ground every time we walk (especially run), there are many scenarios that can result in pain in the bottom of the foot, pain shooting into the ankle, pain in the back of the foot, or tingling in the foot. So let’s discuss the unlikely chance that you have a true pinched nerve and the underlying contributors behind your symptoms because most of those pains are NOT from a pinched nerve.

What is Pinched Nerve in Foot

The chances that you are experiencing symptoms from a true pinched nerve are very slim. This is because a true pinched nerve is caused by a space-occupying lesion directly putting pressure on the nerve. There are essentially 2 situations when the nerves going to the foot are pinched; one is when the nerve going through the tarsal tunnel (the passageway that allows the tibial nerve which causes foot flexion), is compressed, causing burning or sharp shooting pains. Then there is a disc or foreman (where the spinal nerve exits the lower back spine) issue where the nerve exiting the spine is irritated. You may want to read the blog I wrote called: What is a Pinched Nerve?

Although many patients come to me complaining of “a pinched nerve” in their foot, that’s almost never the actual cause of the symptoms. The foot and legs, especially in runners, are common sites for trigger points, which do mimic the symptoms of a pinched nerve. Then there is pain due to dysfunctional movements and irritation of the joints involved, bear in mind that with that goes the connective tissue and fascia-related pain that is almost always disregarded. The trigger points and dysfunction don’t have to be in the foot and ankle to be causing pain in the foot and can, in fact, come from the hip. It is best to always look at the whole region, at the least, when assessing the musculoskeletal conditions.

The foot, ankle, hip, pelvis, and lower back all work closely together to perform movements such as running or walking. If you have an old injury that was never properly rehabbed or if there is a dysfunctional movement pattern in one area, this will impact the other areas, and the compensation that occurs over time results in pain. The ankle is typically the joint that makes up for the lack in the joints above and is definitely impacted as a result of knee and hip issues. That is a given fact!! In runners, chances are likely that in the treatment of the runner’s hip and/or knee issues, the foot is never looked at and evaluated.

The more likely cause of your foot pain is the overall dysfunctional movement. To quickly clarify what that even means, let’s say that not every movement is properly following the ‘blueprint’ of movement- the movement that the body is inherently designed to follow. So…if you need to go from point A to B and the ideal design is absent, you still make it to point B but at what cost? Over time, following that wrong design of movement, the wrong design becomes your design of choice. The repetition of the dysfunctional movement always leads to wear and tear, pain and deterioration of the soft tissue, irritation of nerves, and collapse of the perfect structure.

Pinched Nerve in Foot From Running

In runners specifically, I find ankle mobility and hip mobility are two major factors that contribute to foot pain. And that doesn’t mean you should be doing the typical passive hip flexor stretches either! They may feel good and provide relief for 30 minutes or so, but they are not very helpful in what you are trying to accomplish, which should be to move better so you stay out of pain.

For a runner, here are some things you want to look for:

  • Look at the bottom of your running shoes! And here is a Shoe Evaluation Tutorial!  
  • Are you breathing correctly? Almost no one is when they first come to see me! Proper breathing is important, especially for sports performance. Watch this Biological Breathing video to learn how.  
  • And finally, you need to evaluate your running form or have someone do it for you. The video below gets into it for you!

How to Relieve Pinched Nerve in Foot and Treatment

If you’re a runner using the steps provided above, you should begin the relief process. The beginning stage of treatment will involve lifestyle modification and functional rehabilitation such as Active Release Technique (ART) to address the trigger points and bring some mobility into the joint. This is the beginning and stopping here is where most treatments fail, and why the pain returns. The same goes for chiropractic adjustments. As a chiropractor, I use adjustment of the spine and ankle joint when necessary, and although chiropractic adjustment has its benefits (Chiropractic and Health Benefits),  I do not view adjustment as the end all be all of musculoskeletal injuries.

The most comprehensive approach to the resolution of dysfunctional movement patterns starts by assessing the brain and its related portions involving posture and balance. This is referred to as Postural Neurology. This is when the ‘map’ of movement and sensation when it comes to posture and balance is evaluated through strategic tests.

Then it is to see how one is able to perform specific movements requiring the known correct and functional requirements for movement. This is through Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization or Developmental Kinesiology; this is where most people are surprised at their level of dysfunction as they can’t perform the most basic movements just as toddlers do! The video below is a great example of these DNS principles to specifically address the hip and ankles while putting the ankle joint through the full range of motion.

and here is one for the hip joint and one of my favorites!

These exercises and other DNS developmental positions are based on how we all as babies developed movement and apply this to correcting dysfunctional movements in adults. These do not isolate the area of complaint but integrate how that area functions with the rest of the body. 

Next time you have shooting pain in your foot or any other part of your body, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is your nerve, don’t assume that the cause of pain is at the site of pain, and never ever isolate the problem area to stretch and expect your issue to be resolved. Remember we are born with the map of movement at birth which gets ‘added on’ during the first 2 years of life. That is why all babies on this planet go through the same developmental movements and stages. With those movement patterns come the associated neurological advancement needed for 100% functional movement. 

If we know the patterns of movement and the areas of the brain responsible for posture and balance, then we can assess patients to see where they stand compared to the ideal; anything highlighted becomes the area of focus for correction.

If you want more information on Developmental Kinesiology and how it can help you, I encourage you to check out my Website, Youtube Channel and its Runners Playlist and contact me with your questions.