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You’ve probably felt your legs or feet fall asleep before. But if you experience this sensation frequently or with intensity, it could be a sign of a more serious condition.
There are a lot of reasons why you might feel numbness, tingling, or even a burning sensation in your legs and feet. Some of the most common conditions that can cause this symptom include:
In this article, we’ll take a look at these and other causes of numbness in the legs and feet, what other symptoms may appear with these conditions, possible treatments, and when to contact a doctor.
Numbness or tingling in the feet and legs could be due to a variety of conditions. These include:
- spinal injuries or pressure on the nerves
- diabetic neuropathy
- multiple sclerosis
- tarsal tunnel syndrome
- peripheral artery disease
- stroke or transient ischemic attack
Spinal injuries or pressure on the nerves
Putting too much pressure on your nerves because of overuse or an injury 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
- wearing shoes that are too tight
- foot or ankle injuries
- sitting on your foot for too long
- slipped or herniated discs
- other back problems that trap a nerve
In many cases, the underlying cause of having pressure on the nerves is treatable. Nerve damage may not be permanent.
Diabetic neuropathies are a group of nerve disorders caused by damage from diabetes. These neuropathies can affect any part of the body, including the legs and feet. According to the American Diabetes Association, about half of all people with diabetes experience some form of neuropathy or nerve damage.
Numbness or tingling in the feet is a common first symptom for many people who experience nerve damage from diabetes. This is called peripheral neuropathy. It’s usually worse at night.
Other common symptoms of this peripheral neuropathy from diabetes include:
- sharp pains or cramps
- extreme sensitivity to touch
- loss of balance
Over time, blisters and ulcers may develop on the foot when injuries go unnoticed due to the numbness. These can lead to infections and — coupled with poor circulation that also stems from diabetes — can lead to amputations.
Fibromyalgia also causes other symptoms like:
Experts believe that fibromyalgia is caused when pain signals are amplified in the brain. It’s common for symptoms to occur after major stressful or traumatic events, like:
The exact origins of fibromyalgia and the paresthesia it causes are unclear, but a
A few possible theories for how symptoms develop with this condition involve muscle stiffness and spasms caused by pressure on the nerves. Sometimes these spasms are caused by cold temperatures — called induced vasospasm — that force blood vessels closed, blocking the flow of blood and creating numbness.
The numbness and tingling that occurs with fibromyalgia can come and go without explanation.
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 likely progresses over time. Although this condition gradually gets worse for many, most people will experience periods of remissions and relapses from symptoms.
Other common symptoms of MS include:
- muscle spasms
- loss of balance
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.
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:
- sudden or shooting pain
- sensation similar to an electric shock
You’ll usually feel symptoms on the inside of the ankle or along the bottom of the foot. These sensations may be sporadic and come on suddenly. Getting early treatment is essential to preventing permanent nerve damage.
Peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a condition in which plaque called atherosclerosis 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 or lead to amputation.
Because PAD increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, 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 or slower hair growth on legs or feet
- loss or slow growth of toenails
- shiny skin on your legs
- no or weak pulse in your legs
In many cases of numbness and tingling in the legs and feet, treating the underlying cause is key to relieving this symptom. For example, if diabetes is the cause of your neuropathy, managing your blood sugar levels is an important step to take to avoid further damage.
If you develop recurring numbness or tingling in your legs or feet, talk with your doctor about the possible causes and treatments. Addressing chronic issues can take time, though. Your doctor can offer some things to help reduce discomfort from numbness and tingling while you work on bigger problems.
Several medications can help relieve the discomfort associated with various neuropathies. Many of these medications treat other conditions like depression or seizures, and include:
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- gabapentin (Neurontin)
- pregabalin (Lyrica)
- topiramate (Topamax)
- lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
Depending on the cause of your numbness and tingling, there may be a number of alternative or complementary therapies that can help. These include things like:
If you are looking for immediate relief, several natural home remedies might also give you at least some temporary relief from numbness and tingling.
- 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 20 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. This could include dry heat from heating pads or moist heat from steamed towels or moist heating packs. 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. Orthotic devices can also help.
- Inspection. Make sure to inspect your feet for sores and blisters. This is important regardless of the cause of numbness or tingling in your legs or feet. Numbness can prevent you from feeling injuries, which can lead to severe injury or infection.
- Massage. Massaging your feet increases blood circulation, helps stimulate the nerves, and improves their function.
- Foot baths. Soaking your feet in Epsom salt may help relieve symptoms. It’s full of magnesium, which can increase blood circulation.
If you’re experiencing persistent or recurring numbness or tingling in your legs and feet, make an appointment to talk with a doctor. Though occasional numbness can occur, persistent numbness and tingling can be an indication of a serious underlying medical condition.
The sooner a diagnosis is made the sooner treatment can start. Early treatment usually leads to better outcomes and fewer complications. Your doctor may run tests after asking about your other symptoms, conditions, and family medical history in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
Several conditions can cause numbness and tingling, but many of them require long-term changes or treatment to resolve completely.
Talk with a doctor if you’re experiencing severe or persistent numbness or tingling in your legs, feet, or other limbs. Finding the cause and working on a treatment plan can help you avoid long-term or even permanent injuries or complications.