Numbness in lower legs may be accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, burning, and difficulty walking, and causes can be mechanical, metabolic, and inflammatory, amongst others. Read more below to learn 10 possible causes of numbness in lower legs, treatment, and more.
Symptoms of lower leg numbness
Lower leg numbness is characterized by loss of sensation or tingling in the lower extremities. Various nerve-related causes are likely to blame for this condition. Even so, it can also be related to something as simple as poor posture or sitting in a cramped position for too long.
Common accompanying symptoms of lower leg numbness
If you're experiencing lower leg numbness, it is also likely to experience:
- This may shoot up or down the leg with certain movements or positions.
- Increased or decreased sensitivity to touch
- Weakness in the legs, ankles or feet
Lower leg numbness in one or both legs can be a serious cause for concern as it often signals an underlying process that requires medical attention. It is important to follow-up with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Causes of lower leg numbness
Numbness in the lower leg occurs when there is injury or disruption to the nerves of the lower extremity. Injury can happen to a single nerve or a group of nerves, and causes are broad and varied.
The main nerves of the legs that are most often affected and result in numbness include the sciatic , such as the common peroneal nerve and the . The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back and its branches run from the back of the leg all the way to the toes.
Any process that causes physical damage or disruption to the nerves in the lower legs can result in a mechanical cause of numbness.
- Compression: Compression of a nerve or multiple nerves in the lower leg can result from various causes such as compressive clothing or leg positions (such as crossing the legs) or tumors that directly grow on or into the nerve or nerves. Sometimes the vertebrae or disks of the back can become leading to injury of the spinal cord.
- Trauma: Traumatic injuries that cause fractures to the bones or damage to the muscles surrounding the nerves in the lower leg can result in direct damage that results in numbness.
There are many systemic, metabolic conditions that can result in damage to the nerves of the body. These conditions affect the way that the nerve sends and receives signals from the brain and spinal cord and disrupts proper sensory function, resulting in a condition known as neuropathy.
- Systemic: Dysfunction in the systemic processes that your body uses day-to-day, for example, glucose and insulin dysregulation in diabetes, can damage many nerves in the body causing numbness that may not only appear in the lower extremities but in other body parts such as the
- Toxins: Toxins that cause injury to the nerves include heavy metals such as lead and substances such as alcohol. Too much exposure to either can cause nerve damage that can lead to lower leg numbness.
Inflammatory causes of lower leg numbness may include the following.
- Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the nerves and cause injury that results in numbness. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and lupus are examples of such .
- Infections: Bacterial infections can sometimes be the cause of Guillain-Barre Syndrome that may cause numbness in addition to weakness (usually bilateral). Multiple viral infections such as shingles can cause inflammation and nerve injury that may result in lower leg numbness. Some infections can cause large abscesses in the spine that can also cause compression of the nerves in the lower leg.
Central nervous system causes
Issues within the central nervous system can result in lower leg numbness.
- Brain or spinal cord: Processes in the brain and spinal cord can result in lower leg numbness, but often these conditions present with serious symptoms as well such as a or consciousness. A primary condition in the brain or spinal cord that is resulting in leg numbness is most likely a vascular injury in the brain or serious injury in the spinal cord that can cause paralysis.
- Genetics: There are many nervous system conditions that people are born with such as that can result in numbness and other symptoms in the lower legs.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Herniated (slipped) disk in the lower back
The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.
Top Symptoms: lower back pain, moderate back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that gets worse when sitting, leg weakness
Urgency: Primary care doctor
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..
Vertebral osteomyelitis, or spinal osteomyelitis, is an infection in the bones of the spine. It usually affects the lumbar, or lower, back, and may be either acute or chronic.
The infection is caused by bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and by some types of fungi. These agents can travel through the bloodstream from an infected wound elsewhere in the body and reach the bones of the spine.
Most susceptible are those with weakened immune systems; poor circulation; recent injury; or undergoing hemodialysis. Osteomyelitis of the spine is the most common form of osteomyelitis in adults, though children can also be affected.
Symptoms include swelling, redness, and pain at the site of the infection, along with fever, chills, and fatigue.
A medical provider should be seen for these symptoms, as vertebral osteomyelitis can progress to abscess and cause further complications if not treated.
Diagnosis is made through blood tests, imaging of the spine, and sometimes biopsy.
Treatment involves several weeks of intravenous antibiotic or antifungal medication, which can be given as an outpatient.
Top Symptoms: upper back pain, spontaneous neck or back pain, fever, foot numbness, upper leg numbness
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Fibular nerve injury
The fibular nerves are also known as the peroneal nerves. Fibular nerves run from the lower spine all the way down the back of the leg, ending at the heel. If the fibular nerves are damaged or compressed, this can result in a condition known as foot drop.
The fibular nerves can be damaged through surgery, especially hip replacement or total knee replacement; any injury to the knee or low back; or neurologic diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.
Foot drop means that the person is unable to flex the foot upward from the ankle, because the fibular nerves that control this voluntary movement have been damaged. There may also be pain, numbness and weakness in the foot, and difficulty walking.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, nerve conduction studies, and imaging such as x-ray or MRI.
Treatment involves using orthotics, which are specially made shoes, supports, and braces for the foot; physical therapy; and sometimes surgery to decompress or otherwise help repair the nerve.
Top Symptoms: pain in the distribution of fibular nerve, numbness in fibular nerve distribution, difficulty walking or weakness with foot dorsiflexion
Urgency: Wait and watch
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 ..
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
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
Peripheral arterial disease (pad)
Peripheral artery disease is also called PAD, intermittent claudication, or vascular disease. The large main artery from the heart is the aorta, and its smaller branches are the peripheral arteries.
In PAD these peripheral arteries are blocked with plaque, which is debris that builds up in the lining of these arteries and eventually cuts off the blood flow.
Risk factors for PAD include smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
PAD usually involves arteries that lead to the legs, but can affect any artery. Symptoms include numbness and pain in the legs, especially with exercise when more circulation is needed but the flow is blocked.
It is important to seek treatment for these symptoms. PAD can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and infection as well as to gangrene, a life-threatening medical emergency.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, blood tests, and sometimes a treadmill test, MRI, and arteriogram.
Treatment involves medication and surgery to open or bypass blocked arteries, and lifestyle changes regarding diet, exercise, and smoking cessation.
Top Symptoms: leg numbness, spontaneous foot pain, decreased exercise tolerance, cold feet, thigh pain
Symptoms that never occur with peripheral arterial disease (pad): calf pain from an injury, thigh pain from an injury
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Multiple sclerosis (ms)
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the central nervous system. The body's immune system attacks nerve fibers and their myelin covering. This causes irreversible scarring called "sclerosis," which interferes with the transmission of signals between the brain and the body.
The cause is unknown. It may be connected to a genetic predisposition. The disease usually appears between ages 20 to 50 and is far more common in women than in men. Other risk factors include family history; viral infections such as Epstein-Barr; having other autoimmune diseases; and smoking.
Symptoms include numbness or weakness in arms, legs, or body; partial or total loss of vision in one or both eyes; tingling or shock-like sensation, especially in the neck; tremor; and loss of coordination.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, neurological examination, blood tests, MRI, and sometimes a spinal tap.
There is no cure for MS, but treatment with corticosteroids and plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) can slow the course of the disease and manage symptoms for better quality of life.
Top Symptoms: severe fatigue, constipation, numbness, decreased sex drive, signs of optic neuritis
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
Lower leg numbness treatments and relief
Treatments for lower leg numbness can begin at home. If your symptoms worsen or persist, or you experience widespread numbness, you should seek medical attention sooner than later.
At-home treatments and preventative methods for lower leg numbness
Prevention of temporary symptoms of numbness can be treated by simple lifestyle changes.
- Avoid repetitive motions or cramped positions: These may put unnecessary pressure on your nerves.
- Avoid toxic exposures: This includes alcohol. You should also check your home and work environment for substances such as lead.
- Use proper lifting techniques: Be careful when lifting heavy objects and always use proper form when exercising, especially when lifting heavy weights.
When to see a doctor for lower leg numbness
However, if you experience frequent, persistent episodes of numbness, visit your physician to find to get appropriate treatment. Depending on the cause, your physician may suggest the following treatments:
- Anticonvulsants: Some anticonvulsant medications are also used to combat nerve pain such as Gabapentin.
- Pain medication: Your physician may prescribe medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to help treat pain associated with leg numbness.
- Corticosteroid injections: Injections can reduce inflammation and help relieve pain; however, they include certain side effects such as joint infection and nerve damage that you need to discuss with your healthcare provider before beginning.
- Surgery: If other treatments are ineffective and your symptoms continue to progress or worsen, your physician may recommend looking into surgical options to combat your symptoms.
FAQs about lower leg numbness
Will the numbness in my lower leg affect my gait or walking?
Depending on what nerves in the leg are affected, your gait or walking may be affected. For example, if you have injury or disruption to the common peroneal nerve a nerve that provides both sensation and movement to the lower leg and foot you may find it when walking and develop a "slapping" gait or dragging of the feet while walking.
Why am I only feeling numbness in one leg and not both?
You are only feeling numbness in one lower leg and not both because the nerve or nerves in that leg have been affected whereas the nerve in the other leg has not.
Will the numbness spread from my lower leg to other parts of my body?
Depending on the specific cause of your symptoms, you may experience numbness and other symptoms in other parts of your body. For example, if you suffer from diabetes you may have neuropathy that causes numbness in the hands as well.
How long will the lower leg numbness last?
The duration of your symptoms will depend on the specific cause. For example, mechanical causes of lower leg numbness can have a range of causes from benign to severe. A compressive cause such as too-tight clothing will have a much faster resolution than a fracture or compressive tumor. Discuss your specific prognosis with your physician to get more detailed information for the duration of your symptoms.
Is lower leg numbness life-threatening?
Usually, numbness in the lower leg is not life-threatening, especially if it is related to compressive etiologies of leg numbness. However, there are life- and/or limb-threatening conditions such as compartment syndrome a situation in which increased pressure within a confined space can lead to the inadequate blood supply to an organ that can also present as numbness. Usually, these conditions are associated with severe trauma and symptoms such as paralysis, lack of pulse and changes in the color of the extremity. Also Guillain-Barre Syndrome can result in numbness and weakness spreading to other parts including the breathing muscles and is an emergency needing immediate medical attention.
Questions your doctor may ask about lower leg numbness
- Are you sleepy during the day?
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Do your symptoms improve with activity (moving around and such)?
- Are your symptoms worse during the late afternoon or night?
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- Ma CB. Herniated disk. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated September 22, 2016.
- Numbness or tingling. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
- Charcot-marie-tooth disease fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018.