What is foot numbness?
Foot numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) feet, including the toes.
Foot numbness is usually due to a lack of blood supply to an area or nerve damage. Foot numbness can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other abnormal processes, although a numb foot usually indicates nerve damage or disease. Most cases of foot numbness are not due to life-threatening disorders, but it does occur with stroke and tumors.
Foot numbness is often associated with or preceded by pain-like pins-and-needles, prickling, or burning sensations called paresthesias. Whereas foot numbness is a loss of sensation, paralysis involves a loss of movement, with or without the loss of sensation in the area.
Depending on the cause, the loss of sensation can disappear quickly, such as numbness after sitting for a long time that will fade away once you move your legs and feet around. Chronic numbness in the feet generally indicates some level of damage to the nerves. Foot numbness may also be worse at night, which is common for paresthesias in general.
Because foot numbness may be a symptom of an underlying disease, disorder or condition, you should talk with your medical professional about any unusual sensations or foot numbness that lasts more than a few minutes.
If you experience foot numbness with loss of bladder or bowel control, paralysis, confusion, weakness in the foot, or slurred speech, seek immediate medical attention (call 911) in an emergency facility. If your foot numbness is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.
What other symptoms might occur with foot numbness?
Foot numbness may also be described as a tingling sensation, and foot numbness after sitting in one position for a long period of time can lead to a pins-and-needles feeling.
Foot numbness may occur with other symptoms as well. For example, if your feet are numb because of a compressed nerve in the lumbar spine (lower back), you may also experience pain in the legs and back. Leg numbness due to multiple sclerosis can be associated with tingling and extreme itchiness. Any symptoms occurring with foot numbness can help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Symptoms that may occur along with foot numbness
Foot numbness may occur with other symptoms including:
Increased foot numbness, tingling, or pain while walking
Lower back pain
Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
Sensitivity to touch
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, foot numbness may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Get immediate help (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, are exhibiting any of these life-threatening symptoms:
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)
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:
Bone fractures or a cast that is too tight
Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure, such as from sitting too long
Degenerative disk disease
Neurological causes of foot numbness
Foot numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:
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
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)
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?
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:
Inability to walk
Permanent loss of sensation