Fibromyalgia and Other Common Causes of Numbness in the Legs and Feet

Written by Alexia Seversen | Published on 23 January 2013
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on 23 January 2013

Numb Sensations: A Cause for Concern?

We’ve all experienced that numb feeling in our legs or feet after sitting in one position for too long. But in some cases, abnormal tingling sensations in any part of the body can be a cause for concern. Often symptoms such as this are easily diagnosed as a reaction to insect bites, or certain medications. However, a numbing or tingling sensation can also be a sign of a more serious problem.

Find the Best Medications for Fibromyalgia»

Read on to learn about some of the most common causes of numbness and which symptoms might mean a trip to your doctor.

Fibromyalgia

Feelings of pain or tenderness in your joints? This may be a sign of fibromyalgia, a syndrome characterized by long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, or tendons. According to PubMed Health, this syndrome most commonly affects women aged 20 to 50, and the exact cause is unknown. Common symptoms include pain in tender areas of the following body parts:

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the brain and spinal cord. According to the National Institutes of Health, MS is most common among women between 20 and 40 years of age. It’s caused by damage to the myelin sheath, which is the protective covering surrounding nerve cells. However, doctors do not know why this happens or to what degree genetics and the environment influence a person’s chance of developing MS. Common symptoms include:

  • muscle spasms
  • numbness
  • loss of balance
  • problems moving arms and legs

Pressure on the Nerves

Played any rough sports lately? If so, numbness or tingling sensations may be due to a herniated disc, a pinching of the cushioning between the bones, or discs, that make up your spine. A herniated disc occurs most often in middle-aged and older men after performing a strenuous task.

If you have a herniated disc, you might experience pain and numbness or weakness in an arm, leg, or the lower back. 

B12 Deficiency

When mom told you to take your vitamins, she was onto something. A lack of vitamin B12 can cause numb sensations in the arms and legs, as well as loss of balance and weakness. B12 is naturally found in animal products and other high-protein foods. However, older adults and those with intestinal disorders may have more difficulty absorbing the vitamin. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, B12 deficiency affects between 1.5 percent and 15 percent of the general population.

Nerve Damage Due to Substance Abuse

Certain substances, such as lead, tobacco, or alcohol can cause peripheral nerve damage, which disrupts your body’s ability to send important information to the brain. Because each nerve serves a unique function, symptoms can include everything from temporary numbness to tingling and pricking sensations in multiple parts of the body.

Peripheral nerve damage can also be caused by physical injury, metabolic disorders, or a systematic disease. 

Diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which high blood sugar levels and decreased blood flow can damage nerves. This can lead to the loss of feeling in your arms and legs as well as other symptoms, such as:

  • tingling or burning in the arms and legs
  • a fast heart rate
  • sweating too much
  • sexual problems 

Keep your blood sugar within a healthy range and visit your doctor regularly to prevent nerve damage or make symptoms less severe.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

We’ve all heard about carpal tunnel syndrome, but what about tarsal tunnel syndrome? Also known as tibial nerve dysfunction, this syndrome occurs when the tibial nerve, which supplies movement and sensation to the calf and foot muscles, is damaged. Tarsal tunnel syndrome can be caused by direct trauma or pressure on the nerve for an extended period of time.

Along with numbness and tingling sensations, other symptoms include pain and a weakness or burning sensation in foot muscles.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease is a condition that leads to narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the legs and feet. This can lead to decreased blood flow that injures nerves and other tissues. Symptoms usually appear during walking or exercise and include:

  • achiness
  • fatigue
  • burning or discomfort in the muscles of your feet, calves, or thighs
  • numbness in the legs or feet; cool to the touch

When to Call Your Doctor

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and can find no obvious cause, such as your foot “falling asleep,” consult a medical professional to rule out the possibility of a more serious, underlying problem.

Call your doctor if you are urinating more often, have a rash, the tingling or numbness worsens as you walk, or if you experience dizziness or muscle spasms. 

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