Numbness in the feet can be caused from trauma from an injury or nerve damage to any part of the leg that may affect your feet. Other causes of feet numbness include restless leg syndrome, sciatica, or tarsal tunnel syndrome. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.
Foot numbness symptoms
What did you feel when you took that last step? If you didn't feel anything, you're probably not levitating, and you may have a case of foot numbness. Aside from being disorienting and uncomfortable, foot numbness can be a sign of significant health issues.
While the foot in itself is certainly prone to injury, foot numbness is often accompanied by other symptoms of the feet, legs, and body. Given the diverse list of potential causes, foot numbness symptoms can easily be a one-time event. Regardless, the loss of sensation in any part of the body, including the foot, is not normal and foot numbness symptoms should be monitored.
Common characteristics of foot numbness
Foot numbness symptoms include:
- Discomfort while standing or walking
- Weakness in the foot
- Loss of feeling in the foot
- Tingling or reduced sensation in the foot
- Pain in the foot and toes
The bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the foot work in concert to help give us mobility and are strongly linked to the rest of the body. Foot numbness is often not simply a localized issue with the foot, but tied to a larger issue of the body.
The symptoms surrounding foot numbness are just a piece of a larger puzzle that, once solved, may reveal a larger underlying issue. Several medical issues express themselves through foot numbness.
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What causes foot numbness?
The foot withstands its fair share of bumps and bruises, but a traumatic event is only one of several potential causes of foot numbness. Numbness in the foot may not even be the result of an issue with the foot itself and could be caused by an issue found throughout the body or from trauma to a part of the leg.
Environmental foot numbness causes
Environmental causes of foot numbness may be due to lifestyle habits or certain situations the feet have been exposed to.
- Trauma: Injuries in the form of strains or breaks to the knee or shinbone can translate to numbness in the foot.
- Nerve damage: Compressing the nerves in the foot can lead to a variety of unpleasant sensations, including numbness. Participating in athletics or exercising and wearing ill-fitting shoes are examples of activities that can put undue stress on and compress the nerves of the foot. Direct damage to nerves like the peroneal nerve can result in a similar outcome.
- Vitamin imbalance: The body requires adequate amounts of certain vitamins to function properly. Deficiencies in vitamins like B12 can lead to foot numbness symptoms.
Disease-related foot numbness causes
Foot numbness can occur due to underlying diseases such as the following.
- Metabolic: Chemical reactions in the body are disrupted by metabolic disorders like diabetes and fibromyalgia, potentially causing nerve disorders and numbness.
- Autoimmune: Inflammatory diseases attack various parts of the body resulting in a variety of ailments including numbness. Celiac disease and Multiple Sclerosis are examples of such diseases.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a chronic condition characterized by uncomfortable sensations while lying down and a strong urge to move the legs. Leg movement relieves the unpleasant sensations temporarily, often resulting in poor quality sleep. RLS is co...
Morton neuroma, also called by the older name Morton's neuroma, is a thickening of fibrous tissue in the ball of the foot. This tissue encapsulates the nerve leading to the third and fourth toes. It is not actually a tumor of the nerve, as the name suggests.
The thickening is caused by years of trauma, irritation, and/or compression to the feet. High-heeled shoes, especially if narrow or tight, are a common cause. The condition is most often seen in women over age 45.
Symptoms include burning pain in the ball of the foot, especially with walking or running. The condition will not heal on its own and can lead to chronic foot pain.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the foot with simple range of motion exercises, and sometimes x-ray.
Treatment includes changing to better-fitting shoes that do not compress the nerve; using orthotics in the shoes to take more pressure off of the nerve; and in some cases the use of corticosteroid injections.
Top Symptoms: foot numbness, pain in the sole of the foot, pain when touching the foot, pain in both feet, foot injury
Tarsal tunnel syndrome refers to the symptoms that result from compression of the posterior tibial nerve. The posterior tibial nerve provides sensation to the bottom of the foot and controls some of the muscles involved in foot structure and movement.
Symptoms of tarsa..
Sciatica is a general term describing any shooting pain that begins at the spine and travels down the leg.
The most common cause is a herniated or "slipped" disc in the lower spine. This means some of the cushioning material inside the disc has been forced outward, pressing on a nerve root. Bony irregularities..
Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.
The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.
Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.
Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.
Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.
Top Symptoms: distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Low calcium level
Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by longstanding or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus (DM). Other risk factors for developing diabetic neuropathy include obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease, and abnormal lipid levels.
Diabetic neuropathy can present as a number ..
Folate (vitamin) deficiency
Folate is also called folic acid or vitamin B9. It is needed to create red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. A shortage of folate leads to a shortage of healthy red blood cells, which is also called anemia.
Folate deficiency can be caused by poor diet; alcohol use; some medications; diseases of the large intestine; and pregnancy, since the growing baby requires folate in larger amounts.
Symptoms include severe fatigue; loss of appetite; diarrhea; paleness; sore tongue; and irritability. The same symptoms can appear in other conditions, especially blood disorders.
Folate deficiency is also a cause of abnormal brain and spine development in a fetus. For these reasons, it is very important to see a medical provider if these symptoms occur.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, blood tests, and sometimes digestive tract studies.
Treatment involves immediate supplementation of folate with injections, followed by folate and other vitamin and mineral tablets; improvement in diet; and treating any underlying digestive or blood disorder.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea
Symptoms that never occur with folate (vitamin) deficiency: abdominal swelling
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
Chemotherapy-induced nerve damage
Chemotherapy has many effects on the body. Some types of chemotherapy can cause irritation of the nerves in ones hands and feet, resulting in symptoms like pain, numbness or tingling.
Top Symptoms: muscle aches, distal numbness, pain in both hands, pain in both feet, numbness
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.
The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.
Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.
Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.
There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.
Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias
Urgency: Primary care doctor
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Foot numbness treatments and relief
Ultimately, foot numbness is not normal and should not be ignored. Fortunately, there are several options for treatment, but, with such a wide range of causes, treatments can vary greatly. There is no "one size fits all" treatment, but relief is often available through a variety of measures.
When to see a doctor for foot numbness
Home remedies may be appropriate, but it is important to contact your doctor if you experience the following:
- Significant trauma to the leg, knee, or foot
- Ongoing or recurring numbness
- Other conditions: If you know you have diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or fibromyalgia
If the foot numbness symptoms seem to be related to a particular event that is minor and easily identifiable, then taking steps at home to minimize the issue may be sufficient. If, however, the foot numbness is unexplainable or associated with other symptoms, then advanced treatments may be required.
At-home foot numbness treatments
The following remedies can help address your foot numbness symptoms at home.
- Rest, elevation, and ice: Simple, at-home steps like these can help relieve numbness from isolated, minor incidents. Wearing appropriate footwear and minimizing athletic activity can also help reduce foot numbness symptoms.
- Medications: Medicines such as NSAIDs or steroids can reduce inflammation and help minimize numbness.
- Balanced diet: Maintaining a proper diet is a critical step to ensure appropriate vitamin intake. Adhering to a gluten-free diet will help control the effects of Celiac disease.
Professional foot numbness treatments
Treatments that can be recommended by your physician include the following.
- Physical therapy: Working with a qualified specialist can help prevent further nerve damage and reduce numbness. Low impact exercise such as swimming is often recommended.
- Surgical procedures: Operative procedures may be required for significant trauma to the knee, shin, or foot.
Even if your foot numbness symptoms appear to dissipate on their own, it is important to remember that they happen for a reason. Maybe the cure is simply avoiding the tight shoes you wore last night, but more complex conditions could be influencing your foot numbness, so it is important to seek help from a medical professional if necessary.
FAQs about foot numbness
Can sciatica cause numbness in the feet?
The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and extends through the leg to the foot. Damage to the sciatic nerve, either through trauma or extended pressure from body positioning, can result in sciatica and a numbing sensation in the foot. Treatments will likely be designed to improve mobility and limit stress.
Is my diabetes causing foot numbness?
Diabetes affects the body in a variety of ways and can trigger several nerve disorders. As time with the disease extends or with poor sugar (glycemic) control, nerve damage throughout the body can develop, causing neuropathy, and leads to numbing of the foot [6, 9]. Nerve disorders may result in no symptoms at all or affect any of the extremities or organ systems.
What causes numbness on the top of the foot?
The likely culprit is nerve damage. When the peroneal nerve, which is a branch of the sciatic nerve, is damaged, the foot can feel numb or tingly. Damage is commonly caused by trauma to the leg or knee or from poor body positioning such as crossing the legs or sleep positions that put pressure on the knee.
How do you improve circulation in your feet?
There are several at-home steps that can help improve circulation. Elevating and stretching the foot are two easily followed options. Improving overall health by stopping smoking, performing low impact exercise (such as swimming) and maintaining healthy levels of blood pressure and cholesterol can also help.
Why do my feet suddenly go numb?
Sudden foot numbness is often caused by compression of the nerves or poor circulation. Wearing ill-fitting shoes, for example, can put strain on the joints and nerves of the foot. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, damage nerves as well. Crossing your legs and other body positions that limit blood flow lead to numbness.
Questions your doctor may ask about foot numbness
- Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric issue, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder?
- While lying down on a firm surface, keep both legs straight. Have a friend slowly raise one leg at a time by lifting your ankle into the air. Do you have pain in that leg before fully raising it to a perpendicular position? (This is called the straight leg test.)
- Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?
- Are you having any difficulty walking?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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