Numbness in One Foot Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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Numbness and tingling in one foot can be commonly caused by nerve damage that can lead to sciatica, tarsal tunnel syndrome, or a fibular nerve injury. Read below for more information on causes of numbness in one foot and how to find relief.
Symptoms of numbness in one foot
Foot numbness is the loss of sensation or feeling in the foot. Sensation in the body relies on the function of a vast connection of nerves. When nerve damage occurs and sensation is decreased, the ability to use the sense of touch to prevent injury is also decreased as is your sense of balance. Without these protective mechanisms, you may be more prone to injuring the affected foot.
Common characteristics of numbness in one foot are
Numbness in one foot can be alarming, and depending on the cause it can be:
- Sudden or gradual
- Persistent (continuous) or intermittent (comes and goes)
- Acute (sudden and temporary) or chronic (continuous or recurring)
- Temporary or permanent
Common accompanying symptoms are
Numbness in one foot can be associated with other changes in sensation or symptoms including:
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Difficulty walking
What causes numbness in one foot?
Foot numbness is typically the result of injury, compression or irritation of a nerve or a branch of one of the nerves in your leg or foot. The foot contains many different nerves and small blood vessels that begin higher up in the leg and thigh and branch off in various directions to give blood flow and sensation throughout the foot. Thus, causes that result in foot numbness are varied but can be divided into the following categories.
Some diseases or illnesses are systemic, meaning they can affect multiple parts of the body including the nerves in your foot.
- Metabolic diseases: Diabetes can lead to peripheral or diabetic neuropathy which is damage to the nerves in the feet and hands caused by poor blood sugar control. Usually, both feet are equally affected, but early on the numbness may be more noticeable in one foot compared to the other.
- Abnormal growths: Some cancerous and non-cancerous growths can compress or damage the nerves in your body, and if a growth interferes with a nerve leading to your foot, you may notice foot numbness.
- Genetic or hereditary diseases: Genetic or hereditary diseases like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, lead to abnormal genes that affect the nerves in your feet and can lead to foot numbness.
Foot numbness can be caused by inflammation, which is the body’s normal response to injury or infection. Sometimes the body’s immune system kicks in when it’s not supposed to, which leads to autoimmune inflammatory disease.
- Bacterial or viral infection: Bacterial infections like Lyme disease and viral infections from the chickenpox virus (which causes Shingles) can cause foot numbness in one or both feet.
- Autoimmune disease: An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system, which usually works to protect you against diseases and infections, instead starts to attack the healthy cells that make up your body. Sometimes these autoimmune diseases can affect the spinal cord or nerves leading to your foot which can lead to foot numbness.
Poor nutrition, exposure to toxins or toxic products of certain treatments, and trauma can also cause foot numbness.
- Toxins: Exposure to toxins like heavy metals (like lead) or the byproducts of alcohol or certain chemotherapy treatments can damage the nerves in the feet and legs.
- Vitamin deficiency: A lack of certain vitamins essential to healthy nerve function, like those in the B vitamin family, can lead to foot numbness; however, this usually affects both feet and develops over a long period of time.
- Trauma: Trauma or damage to the nerves leading to the foot can result in foot numbness. This trauma can be direct from blunt force or a crushing injury or can be from exposure to very cold temperatures leading to frostbite.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
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..
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..
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
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
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
Numbness in one foot treatments and relief
If your foot numbness is persistent and/or particularly bothersome, you should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine the diagnosis and the best course of treatment. If your foot numbness is associated with trauma or injury, some at-home treatments may help while you wait to be examined by a medical provider.
- Rest: Some causes of foot numbness, especially those associated with injury or straining improve with rest.
- Exercise and stretching: While some causes of foot numbness improve with rest, others like numbness due to prolonged bed rest or immobility of the foot can improve with gradual exercise.
When to see a doctor
The urgency with which you should see a medical professional depends on some factors like the duration, severity, and timing of your symptoms. Make an appointment with a primary care provider and try to be evaluated in the next few days if you notice the following:
- Persistent foot numbness
- Worsening foot numbness
- Foot numbness that is gradually spreading up the leg
- Foot numbness associated with other widespread symptoms: Increased fatigue, unexplained weight loss and/or persistent headaches
When it is an emergency
You should seek immediate medical attention if your foot numbness is associated with any of the following symptoms or factors:
- Arm numbness
- Vision problems
- Trouble with balancing
- Trouble speaking
- Foot paralysis (inability to move the foot)
These could be signs of a stroke and you should call 911 without delay.
While many causes of foot numbness cannot be prevented, the following healthy practices can reduce the chances of foot numbness from preventable causes like vitamin deficiency, alcohol toxicity, stroke, and diabetes:
- Healthy, balanced diet: Foot numbness associated with nutritional deficiencies can be treated and prevented with a diet with enough nutrients and vitamins, especially the B vitamins like thiamine, B12, and folic acid. B vitamins can be found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas.
- Regular exercise: Exercise along with a healthy diet can also prevent some common causes of foot numbness like diabetes and stroke.
- Tobacco use cessation: Tobacco use has a long list of associated medical conditions and some of these, like diabetes and stroke, can lead to foot numbness. Eliminating tobacco is one of the best health-conscious decisions you can make if you smoke or chew tobacco.
- Alcohol intake reduction or cessation: Prolonged or excessive alcohol use, similar to tobacco use, can lead to multiple health issues including issues that lead to foot numbness. Cutting back on alcohol intake to one drink or less per day or avoiding alcohol altogether can lessen the health risks associated with alcohol.
FAQs about numbness in one foot
Why is my numb foot also tingling?
The nerves in your body function to send signals from your body parts to and from the brain and spinal cord and allow you to sense the environment around you. When these nerves are not functioning normally, usually as a result of damage, this can lead to abnormal sensations including numbness, tingling, burning, pins-and-needles and sometimes pain.
Why am I only feeling numbness in one foot?
Numbness in one foot indicates damage or dysfunction of a nerve on only one side of your body. Numbness in both feet is typically a sign of nerve damage from a systemic disease which can affect multiple parts of the body or nerve damage to the spinal cord which gives rise to nerves that travel to both sides of the body.
Will my foot numbness spread to my leg or other parts of my body?
It depends. Some causes of foot numbness can lead to spreading numbness. These are typically disorders that affect the nerves and travel up the nerves from the feet toward the head or travel down from the head toward the feet. For example, some viruses and bacteria can cause damage that spreads along a nerve and some diseases like diabetes can lead to spreading nerve damage over time.
Can numbness in one foot be caused by diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder of excess sugar in the blood or hyperglycemia. One of the many potential effects of hyperglycemia is damage to the nerves that typically begins in the hands and feet. Usually, the damage occurs in both feet (leading to numbness in both feet) but sometimes, early on in the process, the numbness may be more noticeable in one foot compared to the other.
How long will my foot numbness last?
It depends on the cause. Sometimes foot numbness from mild nerve damage can resolve on its own with rest. However, some forms of nerve damage can last longer and may be permanent. If your foot numbness persists you should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine the diagnosis and the best course of treatment.
Questions your doctor may ask about numbness in one foot
- 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?
- What is your body mass?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Juster-Switlyk K, Smith AG. Updates in diabetic peripheral neuropathy. F1000Res. 2016;5:F1000 Faculty Rev-738. Published 2016 Apr 25. NCBI Link
- Charcot-marie-tooth-disease fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. NINDS Link
- Autoimmune diseases. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. Updated October 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- B vitamins. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. Updated August 1, 2018. MedlinePlus Link