Tingling Lower Leg
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Tingling in the lower leg can also have the feeling of numbness or a burning sensation in the lower leg. Causes of lower leg tingling include neurological issues of the back, restless leg syndrome, or diabetic neuropathy. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options for tingling in the lower leg.
Symptoms associated with tingling in lower legs
Lower leg tingling is a common complaint that drives many people to their doctors in search of relief. It can be caused by a variety of issues including medical conditions that affect the whole body or conditions that affect the nerves and nervous system. Typically the cause of lower leg tingling is not obvious and requires some investigation by your medical provider. While some causes of lower leg tingling can be managed with simple treatments, others require immediate medical attention and professional treatment.
Common accompanying symptoms of a tingling lower leg
If you're experiencing a tingling lower leg, you may also experience:
- Pain in the leg(s) with or without activity
- Weakness of the affected leg(s)
- Aching in the leg(s) relieved or worsened with movement
- Trouble standing or sitting upright
- Back pain that may or may not shoot down the leg(s)
Duration of symptoms
The duration of your lower leg tingling can vary depending on the cause.
- Acute: Lower leg tingling can resolve on its own over time, usually within days to a few weeks, if it is due to a nerve injury that heals over time.
- Chronic: Lower leg tingling can also be chronic, lasting for several weeks or indefinitely.
- Sudden-onset: Lower leg tingling that comes on suddenly is more concerning and should be evaluated by a medical provider.
Is my tingling lower leg serious?
Lower leg tingling can vary in severity and can be evaluated by the following.
- Stroke symptoms: If your lower leg tingling is sudden in onset and associated with numbness, weakness/paralysis, arm numbness, vision problems, trouble with balancing or trouble speaking, these may be symptoms of a stroke and you should immediately seek medical attention.
- Spinal nerve compression: If your tingling lower leg is also associated with sudden, severe back pain, trouble with balancing, sudden changes in bladder or bowel control, and numbness or weakness in one or both legs, buttocks, inner thighs or back of your legs, these could be symptoms suggesting your spinal nerves are being compressed and you should seek medical attention immediately.
- If it occurs with the absence of other severe symptoms: If your lower leg tingling is not severe and not associated with any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it may not require immediate medical attention, but you should talk about your symptoms with a medical provider to identify the cause and best course of treatment.
What causes a tingling sensation in lower legs?
There are many potential causes for lower leg tingling. They typically fall into the categories of neurological injury caused by damage to the nerves or spinal cord, systemic diseases that affect the whole body, or medication side effects. How serious the lower leg tingling is and how soon to seek medical attention depends on the cause.
Causes that are more severe due to a neurological injury may include the following.
- Stroke: A stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain is blocked. Depending on which part of the brain is starved for blood flow/oxygen, the symptoms may be different. Sometimes strokes cause leg tingling, numbness, weakness or paralysis along with other symptoms like arm tingling/weakness/numbness, vision problems, trouble with balancing or trouble speaking. If you have any of these symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention.
- Slipped disk: In between the bones that form your backbone are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance that keep the individual bones of your backbone in place. When a disk ruptures and the jelly-like substance bulges out, it can press on one of the nerves coming out of your spinal cord. Usually bulging or slipping of disks occurs when you strain your back when lifting heavy furniture or exercising. A slipped disk can irritate the nerves going to your lower legs and this irritation can cause lower leg tingling.
- Spinal stenosis: The spinal cord is protected and surrounded by the bones that form your backbone. It travels through a canal formed by these bones, and over time, especially with age, this canal can become more narrow. If the narrowing occurs in the lower back, it can put pressure on the nerves that come out of your spine. When this occurs, you can experience leg tingling, numbness, weakness and pain/cramping in your leg(s) with standing or walking that gets better with bending forward or sitting.
- Sciatica: When a slipped disk or spinal stenosis affects the sciatic nerve (a nerve which branches from your lower back and travels through your hips, buttocks and down each leg), you can have symptoms of sciatica. Sciatica pain radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and down the back of your leg(s) depending on which sciatic nerve is irritated and can also be felt as a shock-like or burning sensation. Sciatica can also be associated with tingling, numbness, and weakness in the affected leg(s).
- Tumor or abnormal growth: Abnormal growths or tumors can put pressure on the spine as it travels through the spinal canal. Tumors or growths in the lower back can irritate the spine or nerves coming out of the spine and can result in lower leg tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain.
- Restless leg syndrome (RLS): Restless leg syndrome causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the legs, typically starting in the late afternoon but most severe in the night when at rest. These sensations can include tingling, burning, itching, aching and/or a creepy-crawly feeling and can make falling asleep or staying asleep difficult, especially because the discomfort is typically relieved by moving the legs or walking.
Other underlying diseases can lead to feelings of tingling in the lower leg, such as:
- Vitamin deficiency or electrolyte imbalance: An improperly balanced diet leading to vitamin deficiencies, especially in vitamin B, can lead to nerve damage causing lower leg tingling. In addition, some kidney and liver problems can cause a buildup or reduction in electrolytes (like potassium, calcium, and magnesium) that can result in nerve damage and lower leg tingling.
- Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes can cause a type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy, which causes numbness, tingling and/or burning in the feet, and when severe, the legs as well.
- Blood vessel problems: Medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes as well as smoking can cause a narrowing or partial blockage of the blood vessels in your leg(s), leading to a decreased oxygen supply to your nerves. This is known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). When this occurs, nerve damage can manifest as numbness, tingling, weakness, pain and/or a burning sensation in different nerves of your body, including the ones that go to your legs.
- Autoimmune diseases: 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. Some autoimmune diseases, like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Guillain-Barre Syndrome attack the nerves and are sometimes associated with recent viral infections. They can cause leg numbness, tingling, weakness and sometimes paralysis.
- Infectious diseases: Some infectious diseases can cause nerve damage either by stimulating autoimmune attacks (see above) or by attacking the nerves directly. Most infectious diseases that lead to nerve damage are viral and include West Nile virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV). Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can affect the nerves.
Medications, drugs or toxins
Many medications, drugs, and toxins can cause unpleasant effects lower leg tingling is one possibility. Certain chemotherapy drugs cause damage to the nerves in the arms and legs and can be associated with leg tingling. Excessive alcohol intake can also lead to nerve damage long-term. Exposure to toxins like lead, mercury, and arsenic can also lead to tingling in the lower leg(s).
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
How to treat tingling in legs and feet
Some causes of lower leg tingling can be managed with at-home treatments while others require evaluation and treatment by a medical professional.
Treatments that can begin at-home include:
- Heating or cooling pads: Warmth or coolness can both help soothe tingling legs, especially if your leg tingling is associated with sore muscles or swelling from an injury.
- Rest: Some causes of lower leg tingling, especially those associated with injury or straining like spinal stenosis, slipped disk, and sciatica, improve withrest.If your lower leg tingling is associated with blood vessel blockage, rest will also provide some relief.
- Exercise: While some causes of lower leg tingling improve with rest, others like blood vessel blockage may improve over time by steadily and gradually increasing exercise. Exercise increases blood flow and strengthens blood vessels.
- Healthy, balanced diet: Lower leg tingling associated with nutritional deficiencies can be treated and prevented with a diet sufficient in 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. Exercise and a healthy diet can also prevent some common causes of leg tingling like diabetes, stroke, and blood vessel problems from high blood pressure.
- Smoking cessation: Smoking has a long list of associated medical conditions like diabetes, stroke, and blood vessel problems from high blood pressure that can lead to lower leg tingling.
A medical provider may prescribe medications to help with nerve tingling, such as:
- Corticosteroids: These can help reduce inflammation-associated leg tingling, like the kind that happens with Multiple Sclerosis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other autoimmune disorders. They can be prescribed in the form of a pill or injected into spots where inflammation is causing pain around your spine or nerves.
- Nerve blocks: Medications that block or interfere with the signaling in your nerves like gabapentin and pregabalin can help reduce tingling.
- Antivirals or antibiotics: These medications can help if your medical provider thinks the cause of your lower leg tingling is due to a viral or bacterial infection.
- Other medications: These may be required to treat the underlying condition causing your leg pain, such as medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, liver or kidney problems, or medications that increase or encourage blood flow.
Other medical treatments
Depending on the cause and other complications related to your lower leg tingling, you may require further medical treatment that can be recommended by your physician.
- Physical therapy: If your leg tingling is due to back strain and/or nerve injury, your medical provider may recommend physical therapy to aid in the healing process.
- Surgery: In some cases,surgeryis recommended if other methods of treatment have not helped. Surgeries for spinal stenosis, slipped disk, sciatica, and tumors/abnormal growths focus on creating more room within the spinal canal or relieving pressure on any pinched nerves that are causing nerve damage and associated tingling, pain, weakness or paralysis.
FAQs about tingling lower leg
Why does my lower leg tingling occur with walking or exercise?
Lower leg tingling with walking can be associated with diseases that affect the blood vessels in your legs. Claudication is the term used to describe pain or tingling in your lower legs with walking, caused by a partial blockage of the blood vessels in your legs. When you walk or exercise, the muscles and nerves in your legs need more blood flow, and when blood flow is blocked, you can feel a cramping, aching and/or tingling pain.
What does it mean if my lower leg tingling gets worse with exercise?
Lower leg tingling that worsens with walking or exercise may also be due to a spinal issue. Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal cord and a slipped/herniated disk occurs when the soft, jelly-like substance between the bones of your backbone bulges out and creates pressure on the spine or a nerve. Either of these problems can cause lower leg tingling that is worse with movement and better with rest.
Why does my lower leg tingling get worse at night or when I lay down?
Lower leg tingling that is worse at night, with rest, or while lying down may be due to restless leg syndrome. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is characterized by uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the leg(s) that may be tingling, burning, itching, aching or a creepy-crawly feeling. These sensations cause an urge to move the legs when lying down, and usually, movement decreases the symptoms of RLS. Peripheral artery disease due to a narrowing or blockage in the blood vessels in your legs can also cause worsening leg tingling and/or pain at nightbecause when lying down, the blood flow to your legs decreases even more.
How can I tell if my lower leg tingling is associated with a stroke?
If your lower leg tingling is sudden in onset and associated with numbness, weakness/paralysis, arm numbness, vision problems, trouble with balancing or trouble speaking, these may be symptoms of a stroke and you should immediately seek medical attention.
What other symptoms associated with a tingling lower leg can indicate a serious condition?
If your tingling lower leg is also associated with sudden, severe back pain, trouble with balancing, sudden changes in bladder or bowel control, and numbness or weakness in one or both legs, buttocks, inner thighs or back of your legs, this could be symptoms suggesting your spinal nerves are being compressed and you should seek medical attention immediately.
Questions your doctor may ask about tingling lower leg
- Do you have trouble sleeping?
- Are you sleepy during the day?
- Have you been experiencing an unpleasant urge to move your legs?
- Are your symptoms worse during the late afternoon or night?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Maina graduated from Princeton University (BA, 2013) with a degree in psychology and received her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She is currently a resident physician in Otolaryngology at the University of Pennsylvania affiliated hospitals. After graduating from Princeton, she spent a year researching embryonic gene expression with the Center for Research on Reproduction and Women's Health at UPenn. She also received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study abnormal innate immune responses and taste-related genes in chronic sinus infections. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, listening to podcasts, and finding new DIY décor projects.
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- Herniated Disk. Mayo Clinic. Published March 6, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
- Sciatica. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated December 2013. OrthoInfo Link
- Spinal Stenosis. Mayo Clinic. Published March 8, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
- Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018. NINDS Link
- Autoimmune Diseases. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated October 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018. NINDS Link
- B Vitamins. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 1, 2018. MedlinePlus Link