This little piggy may have gone to market, but if it’s numb on one side, you’re bound to be concerned.
Numbness in the toes can feel like a complete or partial loss of sensation. It can also feel like tingling or pins and needles.
Conditions ranging from minor to serious can cause full or partial numbness in your big toe. In some instances, minor alterations to your footwear will be enough to eliminate the problem. In other instances, medical support will be necessary.
Whether it’s the tip, sides, or your entire big toe that’s feeling numb, here’s what you need to know.
Causes of partial or full numbness of your big toe include:
Whether they’re dress shoes, high heels, or sneakers, shoes that are too tight can cause numbness in parts of the big toe.
Your feet and toes contain blood vessels, nerves, and bones. If the toes are jammed together in tight shoes, particularly if they’re worn day after day, blocked circulation and other issues are bound to result. This can reduce sensation or produce a pins-and-needles tingle.
Hallux limitus and hallux rigidus
These conditions occur when the MTP (metatarsophalangeal) joint at the base of the big toe becomes stiff and inflexible.
Hallux limitus refers to an MTP joint with some movement. Hallux rigidus refers to an MTP joint with no movement. Both conditions can cause bone spurs to form on top of the MTP joint. If the bone spurs press on nerves, numbness or tingling can result.
Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage anywhere in the body, except the brain or spinal cord. This condition can cause numbness, weakness, tingling, or pain in the toes and feet.
Full or partial numbness in the big toe or several toes can occur. The numbness may come on gradually over time, and it may spread up one leg or both.
In addition to numbness, you may feel extreme sensitivity to touch. Some people with this condition say that their toes and feet feel like they’re wearing heavy socks.
Diabetes is a leading cause of peripheral neuropathy. Other causes include:
- bone marrow disorders, such as lymphoma
- chemotherapy (chemotherapy-induced neuropathy)
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- hormonal imbalance
- hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- malignant or benign tumors or growths that grow or press on nerves
- viral infections
- bacterial infections
- physical injury
- alcohol use disorder
- vitamin B deficiency
A bunion is a bony bump that forms at the base of the big toe. It’s made from bone that moves out of place from the front of the foot.
Bunions cause the tip of the big toe to press heavily on the second toe. They’re often caused by shoes that are too narrow or tight.
If you’re exposed to freezing cold temperatures for too long, or your feet get wet in cold weather, frostbite can occur.
Frostbite can happen to toes, even if you’re wearing socks and boots. Frostnip, a less serious condition that can precede frostbite, can also cause numbness.
This vascular condition causes numbness and skin discoloration in the fingers, toes, ears, and tip of the nose. It occurs when the small arteries responsible for blood flow to the extremities spasm, or constrict, in reaction to emotional distress or cold weather.
Raynaud’s disease has two types: primary and secondary.
Treatments for numbness in your big toe will vary based on the underlying cause:
Treating peripheral neuropathy
If you have bunions, they may be treatable at home.
Wearing comfortable shoes that don’t rub against the bunion can help reduce irritation and numbness. Icing the area can also help.
In some instances, orthotics, either store-bought or fitted, may be enough to alleviate numbness and pain. If these interventions don’t do the trick, bunion surgery may be required.
Treating hallux limitus and hallux rigidus
Hallux limitus and hallux rigidus require surgery to correct.
Treating frostbite and frostnip
Frostbite can quickly turn into a medical emergency and should be treated immediately. Minor frostbite can be treated at home.
Get out of the cold, and if your feet or any part of your body is wet, remove the wet or damp garments. Then rewarm your feet in a warm water bath for around 30 minutes. Severe frostbite requires medical treatment.
Treating Raynaud’s disease
Quitting smoking can help reduce the impact of Raynaud’s disease. You can also reduce symptoms of Raynaud’s disease by keeping warm and avoiding cold temperatures, both indoors and out.
If the numbness in your toe dissipates after you remove your shoes, too-tight footwear is probably causing the problem.
Throw out shoes that are too tight
You can fix this by tossing your too-tight shoes and buying footwear that fits. Make sure your casual and dress shoes have about half a thumb’s width of space at the toe.
Sneakers and other types of athletic shoes should have a full thumb’s width. You should also avoid wearing shoes that are too narrow in width. This will help reduce the chance that bunions will form.
Avoid or limit the wearing of high-heel shoes
Some instances of hallux rigidus and hallux limitus may be avoided by not wearing high-heel shoes. High heels place pressure and strain on the front of the foot, affecting the MTP joint. If you must wear high heels, try to limit their use and insert a cushy orthotic cushion.
If you have diabetes, watch sugar, carb, and alcohol intake
If you have an underlying condition that can cause peripheral neuropathy, follow your doctor’s directions for keeping your condition under control. These may include watching your sugar and carbohydrate intake if you have diabetes or attending 12-step meetings if you drink alcohol in excess.
If you smoke, consider joining a cessation program
If you smoke nicotine products, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program.
Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict, stopping the supply of nutrients to the peripheral nerves. This may exacerbate peripheral neuropathy and Raynaud’s disease, worsening toe numbness.
If you live in a cold climate, wear warm socks and insulated boots
Frostbite and frostnip can be avoided by wearing warm socks or layered socks and insulated boots. Don’t stay outside in freezing weather for too long, and change out of wet socks or footwear immediately during cold weather.
See your doctor right away if toe numbness occurs after an accident or head trauma.
Both gradual and immediate onset toe numbness can signal a serious medical condition. If you have any of the following symptoms and partial toe numbness, call your doctor:
- problems with vision, such as immediate onset blurriness
- confused thinking
- facial drooping
- problems with balance
- muscle weakness or inability to control muscle movements
- numbness on one side of the body
- intense or extreme headache
Toe numbness can often be treated conservatively at home, but it may require medical support. This is more likely to be the case if toe numbness is caused by an underlying health condition.