Toe Numbness

Was this helpful?

What is toe numbness?

Toe numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in the toes. Toe numbness is usually due to a lack of blood supply to the toes or nerve damage. Toe numbness can also result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other abnormal processes. Most cases of toe numbness are not due to life-threatening disorders.

Toe numbness is often associated with or preceded by abnormal pain-like pins-and-needles, prickling, or burning sensations called paresthesias. Whereas toe 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 fades away once you start moving your legs. Chronic numbness in the toes generally indicates some level of damage to the nerves. Toe numbness may also be worse at night, which is common for paresthesias in general.

Because toe numbness may be a symptom of an underlying disease, disorder or condition, you should talk with your medical professional about any unusual sensations or toe numbness that last more than a few minutes.

If you experience toe numbness with loss of bladder or bowel control, paralysis, confusion, weakness in the foot, or slurred speech, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention 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 toe numbness?

Toe numbness may occur with other symptoms as well. For example, toe numbness due to a broken toe will most likely be accompanied by severe pain and swelling. Nerve compression in the lumbar spine (lower back) will usually affect only one leg, with pain and numbness that may extend down to the toes.

Symptoms that may occur along with toe numbness

Toe numbness may occur with other symptoms including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, toe 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, including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of vision or changes in vision
  • Paralysis
  • Slurred speech
  • Toe numbness following a back injury
  • Weakness (loss of strength)

What causes toe numbness?

Toe numbness usually arises from a lack of blood supply to the toes or nerve damage. Toe 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 toe numbness can occur after prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves such as after wearing tight-fitting shoes.

Toe numbness can occur with moderate to serious orthopedic and circulatory conditions, as well as disorders and diseases that damage the nervous system. Numbness in only one toe may indicate a neuroma (noncancerous growth of nerve tissue) or broken toe, whereas general toe numbness may be a sign of a more systemic disease such as diabetes.

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.

Circulatory causes of toe numbness

Toe 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 toe numbness

Toe numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves including:

  • Back injury

  • Broken toe

  • Degenerative disk disease

  • Herniated disk

  • Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure (such as from tight-fitting shoes)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Neurological causes of toe numbness

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

Questions for diagnosing the cause of toe numbness

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

  • Where are you feeling numb and what toes are affected?

  • Is any part of your foot 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 toe numbness?

Any complications associated with toe numbness can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because toe 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 toe numbness, such as:

  • Amputation

  • Disability

  • Inability to walk

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Permanent pain

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Numbness and tingling. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  2. Herniated Disc. American Association of Neurological Surgeons.