Leg Paresthesia

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is leg paresthesia?

Leg paresthesia is a sensation of tingling (feeling of “pins and needles”) or burning in the leg that occurs without stimulation. It can result from a previous leg injury or pressure on a nerve in the leg. Other causes include damage to nerves in the leg from exposure to extreme heat or cold or to toxic compounds.

Paresthesia might also result from a circulation problem that impairs blood flow to the legs, a leg injury, or intense exercise. Another possible cause of leg paresthesia is meralgia paresthetica, which is pain in the outer thigh due to compression of the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, one of the main nerves within the thigh. Chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, can also cause the sensation of leg paresthesia. Anticancer chemotherapy and some antibiotics can also cause paresthesia.

Alternatively, leg paresthesia may be caused by peripheral neuropathy, a disorder in which the peripheral nerves that relay signals between the body and the brain and spinal cord lose function. Peripheral neuropathy can be due to a number of specific diseases and disorders, including alcoholism, diabetes, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, an autoimmune nerve disorder. In some cases, peripheral neuropathy has no known cause.

The duration and course of leg paresthesia can vary widely, depending on the underlying condition. Leg paresthesia caused by stroke or injury often has a sudden onset, while leg paresthesia resulting from peripheral neuropathy develops slowly and persists or worsens over time.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a sudden leg paresthesia is accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of your body; a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; or the worst headache of your life, as these can be signs of stroke.

If your leg paresthesia is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with leg paresthesia?

Leg paresthesia may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the leg also involve other body systems.

Leg symptoms that may occur along with leg paresthesia

Leg paresthesia may accompany other symptoms affecting the leg including:

  • Bleeding

  • Blistering

  • Pain with walking

  • Redness, warmth or swelling

Other symptoms that may occur along with leg paresthesia

Leg paresthesia may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Changes in sensation

  • Difficulty walking

  • Extreme sensitivity to touch

  • Foot problems, such as ulcers and bone and joint pain

  • Impaired coordination

  • Muscle weakness

  • Nerve pain

  • Numbness or tingling in other areas of the body

  • Sharp pain that may be worse at night

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Sudden leg paresthesia accompanied by numbness or weakness on only one side of the body can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have leg paresthesia along with other serious symptoms including:

What causes leg paresthesia?

Leg paresthesia can be the result of skin damage in the leg and surrounding tissues. For example, exposure to toxic chemicals, extreme heat, or extreme cold can damage the nerves in the skin, leading to a feeling of tingling and burning in the leg.

Damage to the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy) can also cause leg paresthesia. Peripheral neuropathy may be due to specific diseases or conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism, that can affect nerve health, or it may have no known cause. In rare cases, when leg paresthesia is accompanied by numbness or weakness on one side of the body, it can be a sign of stroke.

Common causes of leg paresthesia

Leg paresthesia may have several common causes including:

  • Exposure to cold

  • Exposure to toxic or poisonous compounds

  • Injury to nerve

  • Leg trauma or injury

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)

  • Pressure on nerve

Diseases or disorders causing leg paresthesia

A number of diseases can cause leg paresthesia including:

  • Alcoholic neuropathy (nerve damage associated with excessive alcohol consumption)

  • Cancer

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

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome (autoimmune nerve disorder)

  • Meralgia paresthetica (pain in outer thigh due to nerve compression)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)

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

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)

  • Shingles (reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which remains in the body in an inactive state following chickenpox)

  • Spinal stenosis, disc disease, or other conditions of the spine

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

  • Vitamin deficiencies

Serious or life-threatening causes of leg paresthesia

In some cases, leg paresthesia may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of leg paresthesia

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your leg paresthesia including:

  • How long have you felt the leg paresthesia?

  • Where precisely do you feel the leg paresthesia?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Is your leg paresthesia in one leg or in both legs?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of leg paresthesia?

Because leg paresthesia can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage (if the sensation of leg paresthesia is due to stroke)

  • Chronic pain

  • Loss of limb

  • Permanent nerve damage

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  1. NINDS paresthesia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.htm.
  2. Peripheral neuropathy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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