Tired and Aching Feet

Foot Numbness - Causes


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What causes foot numbness?

Foot numbness usually arises from a lack of blood supply to an area or nerve damage. Foot numbness can be a sign of a wide variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves. Temporary foot numbness can occur after prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as after wearing tight-fitting shoes.

Foot numbness can occur with moderate to serious orthopedic and circulatory conditions, as well as disorders and diseases that damage the nervous system. In some cases, numbness is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.

Whether the numbness occurs in one or both feet can help your doctor diagnose the underlying cause. For example, numbness in one foot can indicate a compressed nerve in the lower spine, whereas numbness in both feet (and other extremities) may be a sign of a more systemic disease (in which multiple body parts are affected).

Circulatory causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness can be caused by lack of blood flow to an area due to such conditions as:

  • Arteriovenous malformation (tangled knot of arteries and veins)

  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg that can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Orthopedic causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness may also occur due to moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves, including:

  • Back injury

  • Bone fractures or a cast that is too tight

  • Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure, such as from sitting too long

  • Degenerative disk disease

  • Herniated disk

  • Osteoporosis

Neurological causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:

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  • Alcoholism

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency (as in pernicious anemia)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of foot numbness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your foot numbness including:

  • Where are you feeling numb?

  • When did the numbness start?

  • How long does the numbness last?

  • Are there any activities that cause the numbness?

  • Are you experiencing other sensations, such as pain, burning or itchiness?

What are the potential complications of foot numbness?

Any complications associated with foot numbness can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because foot numbness can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider to reduce your risk of potential complications related to foot numbness, such as:

  • Amputation

  • Disability

  • Inability to walk

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Permanent pain

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 27, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Foot numbness and tingling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health