Numbness, tingling, or lack of feeling in your lower legs can be a temporary experience after sitting down for too long. Sometimes we say our limbs “go to sleep.”
It can also be a warning sign of many serious medical conditions. It’s important to know what to look for and how to tell when it may be time to see a doctor.
Foot or leg asleep
A numbness and tingling in your lower leg or foot is extremely common if you’ve been sitting down for a long stretch of time. The nerves in that part of your body become compressed while you sit, stifling blood flow to the area, which causes numbness. This is a temporary condition that should go away when you stand up and allow blood flow to return to normal.
Similarly, during intense exercise, there are many factors that can inhibit blood flow to your feet or lower legs. High-impact activities such as running can compress nerves, much like sitting, as can sneakers that’re laced too tightly.
Numbness in your lower legs while running or working out is fairly common and should go away quickly on its own.
More serious causes
Numbness anywhere, including your lower leg, can be a side effect of a more serious medical condition. Some common conditions that can cause tingling or lack of feeling in your lower body are:
- Multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that affects your central nervous system. It has many symptoms, including muscle spasms and dizziness. Tingling in the lower body is often one of the first signs.
- Diabetic neuropathies. These are areas of nerve damage caused by diabetes. Along with numbness and tingling, diabetic neuropathies can cause cramps and a loss of balance.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome. In tarsal tunnel syndrome, the tibial nerve in your heel is compressed. This can cause shooting pains and burning along with numbness throughout your legs.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Plaque buildup in your arteries can restrict blood flow to the lower legs and cause numbness. If you have PAD, you may also notice hair loss or coldness to the touch on your lower legs.
- Pinched nerve. A damaged nerve in your lower back and spine can cause radiating pain or numbness down your leg, along with incontinence, sexual dysfunction, or paralysis.
- Frostbite. If you’ve been exposed to extreme cold, numbness in your legs could be from frozen skin, or frostbite. This is a serious medical emergency and could result in long-term damage to your skin and limbs.
In almost all cases, you should see a doctor if you have persistent or frequent numbness anywhere on your body.
If the numbness won’t go away on its own or seems to come back again and again, it could be a sign that you’re dealing with something more serious than a limb that’s “fallen asleep.”
You should also see a doctor if the numbness in your lower leg is accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- burning leg pain
- hair loss on your leg
- loss of balance
- muscle spasms
The safest thing to do is avoid self-diagnosis and get checked out by your doctor.
If the numbness in your legs is persistent, painful, or frequent, you should have it evaluated by your doctor. Treating the underlying condition will be the best way of combating the tingling feeling.
However, there are a few treatment methods you can try at home to ease the discomfort in the meantime:
If your legs are numb, try staying off your feet. Lie down flat to open up blood flow and relieve pressure on the nerves in your feet.
Heat and cold
Depending on the cause of the numbness, you may need to apply a hot or cold compress to the area. An ice pack will help reduce swelling and inflammation, while a warm compress can increase blood flow and relax your muscles.
If you’re unsure of the underlying cause, try both to see which brings you more relief.
A gentle massage of your feet and lower legs can stimulate blood flow to those areas, which should help with numbness and tingling.
Soak your feet in a warm foot bath with Epsom salts. The salt will release magnesium and sulfate ions that can be absorbed to improve blood flow and reduce pain and swelling.
Temporary numbness in your foot or lower leg from sitting too long is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.
Frequent, recurring, or persistent numbness in the area could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, and should be diagnosed by a doctor immediately.
There are many potential causes of limb numbness, so you shouldn’t try to diagnose it at home or treat it only with over-the-counter medications.
You can, however, ease the discomfort with temporary measures until you find treatment and a diagnosis directly from your doctor.