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Chemotherapy and Sore Feet: Some Tips That May Help

By Britta Aragon on June 18, 2009 | 37 Comments

“I finished Chemo Nov 08 but still have the pain in my feet,” says survivor Kim.

“I finished chemo in Oct 08,” says Kinden, “and still have sore feet….For me it is inside the skin, not really on the outside.”

Sore feet can be the result of a side effect called “hand-foot syndrome,” or palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia (PPE). (Read our post on PPE.) Certain types of chemotherapy drugs (like Xeloda, 5FU, Doxil, and more) cause the condition by leaking out of small blood vessels in the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The leakage results in redness, tenderness, and sometimes peeling.

The symptoms of PPE can eventually cause swelling of the palms and soles as well, and in severe cases, move into blistering. In these cases treatment may be delayed or drug dosage reduced until symptoms subside. In the meantime, patients should report any discomfort to the doctor as soon as possible (to prevent worsening of symtoms), and ask about possible medications.

There are several things you can do at home to reduce discomfort from PPE. Avoid long exposure to hot water, use ice packs or frozen veggies on the bottoms of feet, try thicker moisturizers like CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm for cracking and peeling, and use over-the-counter pain relievers. Vitamin B6 is reputed to help reduce symptoms (100 mg a day), as is elevating the legs or using compression socks if you have swelling. In addition, avoid pressure on your hands and feet, limit rubbing, and put off hot showers and sun exposure.

Writer and breast-cancer fighter Monique Doyle Spencer recommends henna powder. “If you get a burning feeling in your feet from your therapy, this will cool it,” she says. Find the recipe at her blog. Other fighters recommend swabbing the feet with heavy cream, then slipping on soft socks for 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight.

Wear shoes that fit well. Women, especially, need to be more cautious than usual when choosing footwear. We have many styles and fashions that look great, but aren’t great for our feet. See a podiatrist if you need to, get some cooling insoles, and choose brands that are well made and well ventilated.

PPE isn’t the only cause of cancer-related sore feet. Sometimes, it’s caused by nerve damage, or what’s known as neuropathy (numbness and tingling caused by chemo drugs). Your doctor may have medications such as Lyrica and Neurontin you can try. Wear shoes with rubber soles to help you avoid falling (if your balance is iffy). The coolness of the “Chillow Pillow” may help you sleep, particularly if you have restless legs and feet. If you can, turn to swimming for exercise so you can get the pressure off your feet. Some studies have shown acupuncture to be beneficial, as well. Jean Lazar, massage therapist and Cinco Vidas expert, strongly recommends massage. A one-hour foot massage has helped many of her patients get back on their feet.

For most patients, foot soreness does eventually go away, but sometimes it can take longer than you’d like. As survivor Phoenix says, “After a year after chemo I thought I was completely better generally, but now I know it wasn’t true; it takes a long time and each year that passes you feel a bit better than before.”

Do you have recommendations for easing the pain of sore feet? Please let us know.

Photo courtesy of Messa via Flickr.com.

Posted in: Hands and Feet, Side Effects


37 Comments to “Chemotherapy and Sore Feet: Some Tips That May Help”

  1. Averil Fawkes says:

    I thought I was going mad because my feet are so sore and I finished chemo in Nov 08. I have been so encouraged by the comments of others and will certainly try all of the suggestions on this site. Thank you so much

  2. Zane says:

    My feet are just killing me. I was told to take 10 grams of L Glutamine a day to help and B6….other than that, I was told that I could take gabapentin sp? but I chose not to take it…it is a seizure drug that has worked well on fibromalgia (I know I spelled that one wrong)…thanks for this site and for following me on tweeter!

  3. Zane says:

    Whoops….the oncologist recommended B12 actually…I wonder if she really meant B6

  4. Andrea says:

    Thanks for the info. I am going on three years of extremely Painful feet. I have taken a couple different chemos in the mean time and I think that my body has not time to heal. I will try the suggestions. If anyone has anymore ideas, I am desperate and open to them. I am 35 and can not really walk anymore!! thanks, Andrea

  5. Britta says:

    Hi Averil, congrats on finishing treatment. I’m so glad that this post helped you. Thank you for commenting. – Britta

  6. Britta says:

    Hi Zane, Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope that your condition as improved somewhat. Please let me know how things go. – Britta

  7. Britta says:

    Please let me know how these remedies work for you Andrea to relieve your pain. The CV team is sending you love and light. Keep us posted! – Britta

  8. hugh says:

    I finished chemo in 2002.The only side effect was sore feet,I was told it might go away but this didn’t happen.I am taking gabapentin (400 grams 3x a day). The burning in my feet is still there and doesn’t seem to get any better.If I wear socks they seem to hurt my feet.Also if I could find some shoes with soft supports.Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks
    Hugh

  9. Britta says:

    Thanks for commenting Hugh and sending you healing thoughts. I know how long term side effects can linger and be a reminder of treatment. I wrote another post on feet after treatments are over http://blog.cincovidas.com/feet-after-cancer%E2%80%94soreness-and-other-side-effects I hope some it helps. Please keep me posted on the alternatives you are doing and if you get any relief. best to you, Britta

  10. Hugh says:

    I had pain and a burning feeling in my feet 8 years after my chemo. It did not want to go away. I was taking gabapentin 3x a day. I was in a little pain one day and figured there should be something I could do so I started doing some exercise on my feet.I would stand up and balance myself with a chair, then go up and down slowly making sure the toes are bending(don’t be too aggressive). I go up and down about 10 times 2x a day.I was very surprised to see that the pain was a lot less after about 2 weeks. Try it,I hope it might help.

    Please let me know if anyone has any luck with this

  11. Jean says:

    I have very sore feet. Have not had any chemo. Always used to sitting at a desk and then had to take a job standing. Thought my feet would get used to standing but got much worse. They feel like blisters on the bottoms and the outsides of my feet hurt to the touch especially with shoes on. I am sorry to hear about the pain that chemo causes the feet but I haven’t even had chemo to blame. All suggestions are greatfully accepted. Thanks, Jean

  12. Peggy says:

    I too am on chemo for the second time in 3yrs. and have had to deal with neuropathy both times. I have taken a supplement called Nerve Shield by a company named Redd Remedies, it has in it vits. b6,b12,b1, folic acid and some anti inflammatory properties.You will find it at a health food store.
    It has been helpful for me. You may need to ask your Dr. if you are still on chemo. Good luck, Peggy

  13. Britta Aragon says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Peggy! Yes, B vitamins are always good, particularly if you can find one of good quality. I’m so glad you’ve found something that seems to help. Thanks for passing it along. Hang in there!

  14. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Jean. Actually, you describe a very common problem—sore feet when standing for hours at work, particularly if you’re on a cement floor or one with little cushioning. From what I understand, you want to get the BEST shoes you can possibly afford, and consider inserts as well. I know of several people who ended up with plantar fasciitis—a painful heel condition—from too much standing on shoes that don’t offer much support. I don’t know what your dress code is, but check with places like footsmart.com for shoes that provide additional cushioning and arch support to help ease foot pain. Getting the right support underneath you can help a lot. Other than that, try to get off your feet as often as you can (can you say 10-minute bathroom breaks? ;o) and walk around rather than stay in one place. Good luck!

  15. Jayne says:

    Thank you for all your comments. Have thought I was going mad. Had chemo back in 2002 and had hot sore feet but they said it was nothing to do with the drugs but I had always had really cold feet before. My feet are always warm still but occasionally burn up (especially as I’ve now taken up golf). Might try some of your remedies now

  16. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Jayne. They said it had nothing to do with the drugs? Can’t believe they told you that! Especially since burning feet is a very common side effect of chemo. Sounds to me like you may have had either hand & foot syndrome (read more here: http://cincovidas.com/dealing-with-side-effects-like-hand-and-foot-syndrome-these-natural-remedies-may-help/) or some nerve damage (read more here: http://cincovidas.com/chemo-side-effect-neuropathy%E2%80%94some-tips-to-help/). No surprise that being on your feet for hours, such as when you’re playing golf, would bring back some of those symptoms. Have you tried some cooling insoles? I’m thinking you need to avoid hot spots when you’re standing—I’d maybe Google “cooling insoles” and see what you can find. Good luck!

  17. Cristhian says:

    Hello,
    My mom is about to complete her first week after the first chemo, sometimes she complains about her feet, she says she have like a burning pain, is this normal this early???

    Thanks a Lot
    Cristhian

  18. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Cristhian. I’m sorry to hear that your mom is struggling with cancer, but how fortunate for her to have you! Loved ones who care are truly the greatest blessing. It sounds like your mom may already be experiencing a bit of nerve damage from the chemo, and yes, it’s definitely possible this early. It all depends on the drugs the doctors are using and your mom’s individual body system. I would definitely inform her doctor of the problem as he may be able to make some adjustments in her prescription. Particularly if it gets worse you want to be sure the doctor knows. Then read up on nerve damage during chemo. I have a chapter dedicated to these types of side effects in my book, “When Cancer Hits” (more info here: http://cincovidas.com/brittas-book-at-a-glance-chapter-10-hands-feet/), plus I have some tips on this post (http://cincovidas.com/chemo-side-effect-neuropathy%E2%80%94some-tips-to-help/). Make sure your mom is getting enough vitamin B. Above all, realize she doesn’t have to just suffer in pain. With your help, she can feel better. Good luck!

  19. Albert Campbell says:

    I have been on Chemo since April 2 times a week I have had numbness in my toes and the bottom a little bit, but the last couple days my feet have been hurting a lot which makes it hard to walk on them.
    I get in spa and use the massage jets on them and they feel better for awhile, Do you think this is ok?
    Do you have anything else that you may think will help?

    Thank You
    Albert

  20. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Albert. It sounds like you may be suffering some nerve damage from the chemo, especially since you said you had some numbness. You may have hand and foot syndrome instead, however—the two can have similar symptoms. Usually hand and foot syndrome results in redness, pain, dryness, and tenderness on the bottom of the feet, and can sometimes result in numbing, but usually responds better to cold (cool gel) than heat. If you had numbness to start with, and now the pain, I’m thinking you are more likely to have nerve damage.

    Whatever the issue is, I strongly recommend you tell your doctor that it’s getting worse. If you’re going through chemo twice a week, you’re getting a pretty big dose. Your doctor may be able to scale back a bit to give you some relief—either way, he or she should know what you’re going through.

    As long as the hot water doesn’t result in any more pain later, I think you’re fine using it. I would also encourage you to read this post (http://cincovidas.com/chemo-side-effect-neuropathy%E2%80%94some-tips-to-help/) as it has more tips. Massage may also help, but only if you have neuropathy—it’s not a good idea for hand and foot syndrome, so you may want to talk to your doctor first. Consider B vitamins as well, as they can help support the nerves, and try WSN Nerve Support Formula, which is mentioned in my post. It is a therapy created for people with diabetes who suffer from neuropathy, and it may help you.

    Good luck and stay strong!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    I finished chemo in June (Taxol, then AC). Halfway through Taxol my feet swoll up. Also, toenails were coming off. Toenails are growing back, some of the numbness is going away, but my feet are still terribly swollen. Oncologist recommended soaking my feet in warm water with epsom salts, but that has had no effect. My regular doctor recently saw me and she has me wearing compression socks and taking a water pill. She also changed my thyroid meds as the TSH went from 2 (before cancer treatment) to 15. I am hoping that this will help. Between the fatigue I still have and how uncomfortable my feet are, it is hard to get back to the active life I had before cancer.

  22. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Elizabeth. I sure can understand why it would be difficult to get active again with the sore feet you describe. In addition to the steps you’re taking, I might also suggest seeing a dietician or naturopath who can help you with foods and supplements that will assist in getting the swelling down. Are you keeping your feet elevated when you can, as well? A naturopath may also be able to help you with a detox that may make things a little better. Try to be patient and kind with yourself!

  23. Mike V says:

    Hi all,
    I had my third Gemcitabine sesion on Fri 23rd Feb. The first two went ok, but the last one affected my feet they bacame vary sore, not able to walk on them. I phoned Christie Hotline and a Doctor phoned me back, said I should stop taking my Capecitabine for two days. I have another 21 weeks of this! I think my dosage is too high?
    I was wondering if anyone else have had this problem.

    Cheers Mike….

  24. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Mike. I hope some of our other readers will write in on this. You did the right thing calling your doctor. He may need to change your drug regimen. You may also want to ask for another opinion. We can be hesitant to do this, but it’s extremely common and it may give you some important insights into your options. I hope some of the tips in this post may help you, as well, but if I were you, I would also be concerned if you are only in the third week of 21 and already experiencing that kind of pain. Remember it’s your body—find out what your options are and make the decision that feels right to you. I wish you the best!

  25. Roger says:

    I started my secon month of a new chemo pill (Stivarga) this week and my feet are much better.
    While I was into my second week my feet got so sore I couldn’t hardly walk.
    I didn’t want to reduce my dosage unless it was absolutely necessary.
    My Doctor wanted to put me off from work but after using Capsaicin cream,0.025%.
    It kind of made my feet hot,but got me past the pain an I kept walking and working.

  26. Britta Aragon says:

    Thanks for your tips, Roger. Good suggestions for other readers! Glad to hear you’re feeling better.

  27. GAIL KOHR says:

    I HAD BREAST CANCER 8 YEARS AGO AND DID CHEMO, 8 ROUNDS, AND 33 ROUNDS OF RADIATION, BUT I STILL HAVE PROBLEMS WITH MY FEET, I EVEN SENT OFF TO HEEL THAT PAIN FOR YOUR FEET AND ORDERED A COUPLE OF THINGS BUT SENT THEM BACK BECAUSE IT DID NOT HELP…. MY FEET STILL BURN AND SOMETIMES THEY ARE WORSE, BUT I WENT TO DOLLAR GENERAL AND I FOUND THIS GEL IN A ROUND JAR, IT IS A ANAGELISC FOR SORE MUSCLES AND JOINTS AND I DECIDED TO RUB IT ON MY FEET, ITS MESSY BUT IT STOP MY BURNING AND SORENESS BUT YOU HAVE TO DO IT 4 TIMES A DAY OR 3 WHICH EVER WORKS FOR YOU. ITS A BLUE GEL IN A ROUND JAR AND IT IS DIRT CHEAP, IT KILLS THE PAIN IN MY FEET SO I CAN SLEEP.. BUT SOMETIMES WHEN I PUT MY SHOES BACK ON IT STARTS UP AGAIN, SO I HAVE TO RUB IT ON BEFORE I PUT MY SHOES ON IF I AM GOING OUT, IT STOPS THE PAIN… I CAN’T TAKE LYRICA, OR NEUROTIN, SO I TAKE TRAMADOL , 3 TO 4 TIMES A DAY, I TAKE IT EVERY 6 HOURS WHEN NEEDED. MY DOCTOR GAVE IT TO ME, BUT I TAKE THE ONE FROM TEVA PHARMACIAL COMPANY, AND SOME DRUG STORES DO NOT CARRY IT, WALMART CAN’T EVEN ORDER IT FOR ME. AND CVS CANNOT ORDER IT EITHER.. SO I HAD TO CHECK WITH DIFFERENT DRUGSTORES TO SEE WHO COULD GET IT FOR ME, AND THEIR ARE DIFFERENT ONE’S , SOME HAVE TYLENTOL BUILD INTO THEM, AND SOME DON’T , MY DOESN’T , THE DOCTOR TOLD ME SHE HAD RATHER ME TAKE A TYLENTOL WITH IT ONLY IF I FELT I NEEDED IT AND NO MORE THAN 4000 MGS A DAY…. SO IT DEPENDS ON THE WEATHER HERE HOW MUCH OF TYLENTOL I TAKE..BUT I THINK PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS HAVE TROUBLE WITH THE BURNING BECAUSE CHEMO HAS DAMAGED OUR FEET. UNTIL THE NEUROPATHY ASSOCIATION COMES UP WITH A MEDICINE TO HELP IT… BUT SHOES ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ALSO, YOU HAVE TO PAY A LOT OF MONEY FOR A PARI OF GOOD SHOES WITH CUSHIONING AND SUPPORT WHEN YOU HAVE BAD FEET.. BUT YOU MIGHT TRY DOLLAR GENERAL STORE FOR THE BLUE GEL IN A ROUND JAR FOR A ANAGELICS FOR MUSLES AND JOINTS , IT DOES NOT SAY FOR FEET BUT IT WORKS WONDERFUL ON FEET, KILLS THE PAIN SO I CAN SLEEP . HOPE THIS HELPED, TRY TRAMADOL ALSO, JUST ASK YOUR DOCTOR, BUT I COULD NOT TAKE THOSE LYRICA, AND NEUROTIN DRUGS, I COULDNOT FUNCTION WITH THEM….. GOOD LUCK EVERYONE AND GOD BLESS US AND MAY GOD TAKE CARE OF US AND SHIELD US FROM ANYMORE CANCER OR ANYMORE HEALTH PROBLEMS…

  28. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Gail. Thank you so much for sharing your story and what worked for you. Oftentimes a recommendation from a fellow survivor is just what someone needs to find a solution. I would ask if you tried vitamin B supplements? They are supposed to help with nerve pain. You may want to have your blood tested to see where your levels are, and if you’re low, supplementation may be helpful. As we get older, we’re less able to absorb vitamin B, so look for a brand that absorbs well. Otherwise, I’m so glad to hear the gel is helping and best of luck to you!

  29. Michelle says:

    Thank you all, 1.5 years out from chemo and feet just started acting up again. Glad to know it is a normal thing…strange what is “normal” these days. During chemo I had the burning and severe peeling (bottom of feet basically fell off in chunks–gross,sorry), toenails and fingernails off, blech. But it seemed to get better with my radiation gel, actually, aquafer I think it is…going to have to go dig it out again. Pain and peeling are back..Oh the joys. Going to look for the blue gel at the dollar store too!!!! THANK YOU ALL FOR WRITING!!!

  30. Britta Aragon says:

    Ugh, Michelle. Doesn’t sound fun at all. It is strange how these things pop up again after being gone awhile, but it seems to be the body’s way of gradually flushing all the toxins out. Hope the tips on this post will help!

  31. Rebecca says:

    I am a little more than one year out from cervical cancer with chemo (cisplatin) and a mass amount of radiation. My feet never were an issue. However, within the past few months, the soreness of my feet is sometimes insane! At first, I thought I was just tired from working all day. Resting doesn’t help. After reading everyone’s comments, I’m relieved I’m not alone! I see my Dr in few weeks for a check up and will discuss my problem with him, but in the mean time I would like to find a natural way to relieve my pain. Do you think taking vitamin B6 supplements with eating non inflamitory foods would help? Maybe some detox baths? Thank you for everyone’s input!!

  32. zame says:

    i want a suggestion aout my feet,it feels heavy and frozen,help me out to get rid of this

  33. zame says:

    i need help to come to uk for mu treatment…..i am going to us this year,if you can help me to come uk for my treatment i will b vry mch helpful

  34. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Rebecca. I’m so glad you came to our post. Yes, your side effects are definitely normal, but I’m sorry to hear that you’re suffering from them. All the things you mentioned may help, and I would also suggest cool packs on the bottom of your feet—frozen veggies work. Go for a total B complex supplement so you’re getting all types rather than just vitamin B6, as B12 is very important for nerves, as well. Bathe in Epsom salts, and try creams with capsaicin in them. This is a compound from chili peppers and it has natural pain-relieving properties. You may also want to consider comfy insoles for your shoes. There are also some cooling ones out there that may provide some relief. Good luck and I hope it gets better!

  35. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Zame. I’m sorry you’re feet are hurting. It’s such a difficult side effect as it affects every part of your life. Please see my comments to Rebecca as you can try those, as well. Hang in there. These side effects usually do go away with time. My best to you.

  36. Sharon Weaver says:

    My Mom has been going thru chemo for a month and a half now and her hands are starting to hurt her. She is trying the Gloves to prevent chap hands. Is there any thing else that we can try to help her with the Pain. I really hate seeing her going thru pain and I feel helpless. She will take tylenol when she feels the her body start hurting but it doesn’t seem to take the pain away in her hands. Any help that you can suggest would be greatful. Thank you

  37. Britta Aragon says:

    Hi, Sharon. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. It is extremely hard to watch someone you love suffering. Do you think it’s nerve pain? It sounds like it to me, but it’s best to check with the doctor on these things. Vitamin B supplements can help with nerve pain if that’s what it is. I also write in my book, “When Cancer Hits,” about some other solutions. (http://cincovidas.com/cv-press/book/) One is to look into supplements for diabetic neuropathy—it’s a similar problem and nerve-support formulas may help. Try other pain relievers like ibuprofen. There are also prescription painkillers so again, talk to your doctor. Keep looking for solutions—pain isn’t good for long-term healing, so tell your mom she doesn’t have to be “tough.” Natural solutions include capsaicin cream, St. John’s wort, skullcap, and arnica gel. Good luck!


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