Ask the Expert: Link between Swollen Feet and Nerve Damage?

by Mark Borigini, M.D. Health Professional

Dear Dr. Borigini,

I have chronic lower back pain and hip pain related to a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, stenosis, and arthritis in my spine and hips. I had surgery about 3 years ago to repair nerve root damage caused by a botched laminectomy about 4 years ago. The nerve damage resulted in foot drop in my right foot/calf.

My question is that recently, I have noticed that when I stand or sit for more that about 5-10 minutes my feet (both) start to feel like, well, the only way I can describe it is if you have been working on your feet for about 8-10 hours. They feel swollen and painful. They do not change color or anything, at least not that I can tell. But when I lift one up, changing my weight from one to the other, it feels like the blood is rushing back to that foot. The only way to relieve the "pressure" is to sit and raise both my feet up on a stool or coffee table. I hope you can understand what I am describing. If you have worked on your feet all day you know the feeling I have. Can you tell me what is happening to me? I am terrified.**

Degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, as you know, can cause nerve damage, which can result in motor weakness ("foot drop") and/or sensory changes such as numbness and tingling, or chronic pain. You mentioned that you had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and this condition can result in what is referred to as "pseudoclaudication," where the patient has a sensation that is similar to the sensation one has when there is not enough arterial blood to the legs; these symptoms can often be improved when the patient changes positions. The bottom line here is that you need to see your doctor. There are tests which can be done, including electrodiagnostic testing (including nerve conduction studies) which can determine if there are particular nerve roots causing your symptoms, or if the spinal cord itself is being "squeezed" too tightly due to the spinal stenosis.

Important: We hope you find this general medical and health information useful, but this Q&A is meant to support not replace the professional medical advice you receive from your doctor. For all personal medical and health matters, including decisions about diagnoses, medications and other treatment options, you should always consult your doctor.

Mark Borigini, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Mark Borigini, M.D.

Mark Borigini is a doctor primarily located in Bethesda, MD, with another office in Downey, CA. He has 29 years of experience. His specialties include Rheumatology and Internal Medicine. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Pain Management and Osteoporosis.