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:
- Burning feeling
- Skin or toenail discoloration
- Frequent urination
- Increased toe numbness, tingling, or pain while walking
- Lower back pain
- Muscle spasms
- Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
- Sensitivity to touch
- Toe pain
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:
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)
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:
Degenerative disk disease
Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure (such as from tight-fitting shoes)
Neurological causes of toe numbness
Toe numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:
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)
Neuroma in the toe
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 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:
Inability to walk
Permanent loss of sensation