Your feet rely on a sense of touch to pull away from hot surfaces and to navigate changing terrain. But if you experience numbness in your foot, you may have little to no sensation in your foot.
Numbness in your foot may be a temporary condition or it can be the result of a chronic condition, such as diabetes. The symptom can also be progressive. You may begin to lose some sensation in your foot then slowly lose more and more feeling as time goes on. Seeking medical advice for numbness in your foot may help slow or delay its progress.
The chief symptom for numbness in your foot is losing sensation in your foot. This affects your sense of touch and balance because you can’t feel your foot’s position against the ground.
While sensation loss is the main symptom of numbness in your foot, you may experience some additional, abnormal sensations. These include:
- pins-and-needles sensation
- weak-feeling foot or feet
These additional symptoms can help your doctor diagnose what’s causing the numbness in your foot.
Your body is a complex network of nerves that travel from the tips of your toes and fingers to your brain and back again. If you experience damage, a blockage, infection, or compression of a nerve that travels to the foot, you may experience numbness in your foot.
Medical conditions that can cause numbness in your foot include:
- alcoholism or chronic alcohol abuse
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- diabetes and diabetic neuropathy
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- herniated disk
- Lyme disease
- Morton’s neuroma
- multiple sclerosis
- peripheral arterial disease
- peripheral vascular disease
- side effect of chemotherapy medications
- spinal cord injury
- vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessels
You may also experience numbness in your foot after prolonged episodes of sitting. This sensation loss — often called “going to sleep” — occurs because the nerves that lead to the foot are compressed while you sit. When you stand and blood flow returns, your foot may feel as if it’s numb. A pins-and-needles feeling usually follows before circulation and sensation return to your foot.
When to seek help
Numbness in your foot that occurs suddenly and with other symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, can be cause for concern. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following symptoms as well as numbness in your foot:
- difficulty talking
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- numbness that begins in a matter of minutes or hours
- numbness that involves multiple parts of the body
- numbness that occurs after a head injury
- severe headache
- trouble breathing
While not always an emergency, a combination of foot numbness and these symptoms can be a sign of:
Make an appointment to see your doctor if the numbness in your foot is causing you to trip or fall frequently. You should also see your doctor if the numbness in your foot is getting worse.
If you have diabetes, make an appointment to see your doctor or podiatrist for foot numbness. Diabetes is a common cause of foot numbness because the metabolic changes can cause nerve damage.
Diagnosing foot numbness depends upon how severe your symptoms are. A doctor may order a computed tomography (CT) scan if you’re having stroke-like symptoms. This allows a doctor to view your brain and identify any blockages or bleeding that could be causing your symptoms.
Your doctor will also take a medical history and ask for a description of your symptoms. Questions asked may include:
- How long does the numbness last?
- What other symptoms do you experience along with the numbness?
- When did you first notice the numbness in your foot?
- When is the numbness worse?
- What makes the numbness better?
After you share your medical history with your doctor, a physical examination typically follows. Your doctor will most likely examine your feet and determine if the sensation loss impacts one or both feet. Some studies your doctor may order include:
- electromyography, which measures how well muscles respond to electrical stimulation
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study to view abnormalities in the spine, spinal cord, or both
- nerve conduction studies, which measure how well nerves conduct electric currents
Additional tests depend upon the suspected diagnosis.
Numbness in the foot is a common cause of imbalance and can increase your risk of falling. Working with a physical therapist to develop a balance program will help reduce your fall risk.
Movements and exercises that don’t irritate your foot numbness are great ways to improve blood flow to the affected nerves. Talk to your doctor and physical therapist about designing an exercise program that works for you.
Treating numbness in your foot is very important. A lack of sensation can increase your risk for foot wounds, trips, and falls. You may experience a cut or injury without knowing it if you cannot sense the foot well. Your wound may not heal as quickly if you have decreased circulation.
Treating the underlying cause of numbness in your foot may help the symptom go away.
Your doctor may also recommend seeing a podiatrist at least yearly if you have chronic numbness in your foot. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- inspect your feet regularly for cuts or wounds
- put a mirror on the floor so you can see the soles of your feet better
- wear well-fitting shoes that protect your feet to minimize your risk for foot wounds
Keeping these precautions in mind can help minimize any other potential problems that can be caused by foot numbness.