Is It Fibromyalgia? Causes of Numbness in the Legs and Feet
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Fibromyalgia and Other Common Causes of Numbness in the Legs

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread muscle pain, exhaustion, trouble sleeping, memory problems, and mood issues. It’s believed to occur when the brain amplifies pain signals.

Symptoms tend to occur after events like surgery, physical trauma, psychological trauma or stress, and infections. Women are more likely to get fibromyalgia than men.

About 20 to 35 percent of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia may experience numbness and tingling in the legs and feet, which may be a bothersome symptom to many.

While fibromyalgia is a common cause of numbness in the legs and feet, there are other conditions that could be causing it, too.

Numbness and tingling

People with fibromyalgia may experience numbness or tingling in their legs and feet, which may also be present in their hands or arms. This numbness and tingling is called paresthesia, and approximately 1 in 4 people with fibromyalgia will be affected by it.

No one is exactly sure what causes people with fibromyalgia to experience paresthesia. Two possible theories include muscle stiffness and spasms causing muscles to press on the nerves.

These spasms are known as a condition cold-induced vasospasm, where the blood vessels in extremities like the feet and hands spasm and close up. This stops blood from flowing to them and results in numbness.

Numbing and tingling may subside and reappear with no explanation.

Other causes of numbness and tingling

There are a variety of reasons people could experience numb or tingling feet and legs and fibromyalgia is only one. Other conditions include multiple sclerosis, diabetes, tarsal tunnel syndrome, peripheral artery disease, and having too much pressure on the nerves.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system. It’s caused by damage to the myelin sheath. MS is a chronic condition that progresses over time. But many people will have remissions and relapses from symptoms.

Other common symptoms of MS include:

  • muscle spasms
  • loss of balance
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

Numbness and tingling is a common sign of MS. It’s usually one of the first symptoms that brings people to their doctors for diagnosis. These sensations may be mild, or severe enough to cause trouble standing or walking. In MS, cases of numbness and tingling tend to go into remission without treatment.

Diabetic neuropathies

Diabetic neuropathies are a group of nerve disorders caused by nerve damage from diabetes. These neuropathies can affect any part of the body, including the legs and feet. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes experience some form of neuropathy.

Numbness or tingling in the feet is the first symptom for many with nerve damage from diabetes. This is called peripheral neuropathy. The numbness and accompanying symptoms are often worse at night.

Other common symptoms of this peripheral neuropathy from diabetes include:

  • sharp pains or cramps in the affected areas
  • extreme sensitivity to touch
  • loss of balance

Over time, blisters and sores may develop on the foot when injuries go unnoticed due to the numbness. These can lead to infections, and coupled with poor circulation, may lead to amputations. Many of these amputations are preventable if infections are caught early.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the posterior tibial nerve, which is located along the inner part of the heel. This can produce symptoms that extend all the way from the ankle to the foot, including tingling and numbness anywhere in the foot. It’s the foot’s version of carpal tunnel.

Other common symptoms of this disorder include:

  • pain, including sudden, shooting pains
  • sensation similar to an electric shock
  • burning

Symptoms are typically felt on the inside of the ankle and along the bottom of the foot. These sensations may be sporadic or come on suddenly. Seeking early treatment is essential. Tarsal tunnel can cause permanent nerve damage if left untreated for a long period of time.

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries. Over time, this plaque can harden, narrowing the arteries and limiting the blood supply and oxygen to parts of your body.

PAD can affect the legs, which results in numbness in both the legs and feet. It can also increase the risk of infection in those areas. If PAD is severe enough, it could result in gangrene and leg amputation.

Because PAD increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, you should consult your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • leg pain when you walk or climb stairs
  • coldness in your lower leg or foot
  • sores on toes, feet, or legs that won’t heal
  • change in the color of your legs
  • hair loss, slower hair growth on legs or feet
  • loss or slow growth of toe nails
  • shiny skin on your legs
  • no or weak pulse in your legs

If you smoke or have heart disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, your risk of PAD is higher.

Pressure on the nerves

Putting too much pressure on your nerves can result in numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation. A variety of different causes can result in having too much pressure on the nerves, including:

  • tensed or spasming muscles
  • too tight shoes
  • foot or ankle injuries
  • sitting on your foot for too long
  • slipped or herniated discs or back problems that trap a nerve and put pressure on it.

In many cases, the underlying cause of having pressure on the nerves is treatable, and in many cases, the nerve damage will not be permanent.

When to see a doctor

If you’re experiencing persistent or recurring numbness or tingling in your legs and feet, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Though occasional numbness can occur, persistent numbness and tingling can be an indication of a serious underlying medical problem.

The sooner a diagnosis is made the sooner treatment can start. And early treatment often leads to positive outcomes.

Your doctor will likely run some tests after asking about your other symptoms, conditions, and family medical history.

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Home treatments

You should consult your doctor if you’re experiencing numbness or tingling in your legs or feet. And they’ll advise you on your best course of treatment. There are also things you can do at home to help alleviate your symptoms, which may include:

Rest

If injury has caused numbness or pain, staying off your feet can help your body heal without causing further damage.

Ice

For some conditions, like tarsal tunnel syndrome or injuries, icing the affected area can reduce both numbness and pain. Don’t leave an ice pack on for more than twenty minutes at a time.

Heat

For some people, applying a heat compress to a numb area can increase blood supply and simultaneously relax the muscles. You could also take a warm bath or shower.

Bracing

For people experiencing too much pressure on the nerves, braces can help to relieve that pressure, and any subsequent pain and numbness. Supportive shoes can also help.

Inspection

Make sure to inspect your feet for sores and blisters. This is important regardless of the cause of numb or tingling legs or feet. Numbness can prevent you from feeling injuries, which can lead to infections that could spread to other areas of the body.

Massage

Massaging your feet increases blood circulation, as well as helping to stimulate the nerves and muscles, which can improve their function.

Footbaths

Soaking your feet in Epsom salt may help relieve symptoms. It is full of magnesium, which can raise blood circulation. It’s thought magnesium can help treat numbness and tingling and potentially prevent these sensations from recurring. 

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