What is leg numbness?
Leg numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in the legs. You can have numbness of one (unilateral) or both (bilateral leg numbness) legs. Numbness in the legs may also extend to your toes.
Leg numbness is usually due to a lack of blood supply to an area or nerve damage. Leg numbness can also result from infection, inflammation, trauma, and other abnormal processes. Most cases of leg numbness are not due to life-threatening disorders, but it does occur with stroke and tumors.
Leg numbness is often associated with or preceded by pain-like pins-and-needles, prickling, or burning sensations called paresthesias. Whereas leg 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 in the buttocks and legs after sitting with your legs crossed for a long time. Numbness can occur suddenly or progress slowly. Chronic leg numbness generally indicates some level of damage to the nerves. Leg numbness may also be worse at night, which is common for paresthesias in general.
Because leg numbness or numbness in general may be a symptom of an underlying disease, disorder or condition, you should talk with your medical professional about any unusual sensations or leg numbness that last more than a few minutes.
If you experience leg numbness with loss of bladder or bowel control, paralysis, confusion, weakness in the leg, or slurred speech, seek immediate medical attention in an emergency facility. If your leg numbness is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.
What other symptoms might occur with leg numbness?
Leg numbness may occur with other symptoms or a combination of symptoms. For example, if your legs 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 leg numbness can help your doctor make a diagnosis.
Symptoms that may occur along with leg numbness
Leg numbness may occur with other symptoms including:
Increased leg numbness, tingling, or pain while walking
Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
Sensitivity to touch
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, leg 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 if you, or someone you are with, are exhibiting any of these life-threatening symptoms:
What causes leg numbness?
Leg numbness can be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that either restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves.
Temporary leg numbness can occur after prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as after sitting cross legged or bicycling long distance.
Leg numbness can occur with moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that can lead to spinal or peripheral nerve damage. More serious conditions include multiple sclerosis.
Whether the numbness occurs in one or both legs can help your doctor diagnose the underlying cause. For example, numbness in one leg can indicate a compressed nerve in the lower spine, whereas numbness in both legs (and other extremities) may be a sign of a more systemic disease (in which multiple body parts are affected) such as multiple sclerosis or pernicious anemia.
In some cases, leg numbness can be a sign of a serious or life-threatening disease or condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible or in an emergency medical setting.
Circulatory causes of leg numbness
Leg 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 arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
Orthopedic causes of leg numbness
Leg numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure of damage the nerves including:
Bone fractures or a cast that is too tight
Degenerative disk disease
Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure, such as from sitting too long
Neurological causes of leg numbness
Leg numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:
Back or neck injury
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)
Because leg 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 leg numbness, such as:
Inability to walk
Permanent loss of sensation
- Poor quality of life
- Numbness and tingling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003206.htm.