There are numerous reasons why your heel may feel numb. Most are common in both adults and children, such as sitting too long with your legs crossed or wearing shoes that are too tight. A few causes may be more serious, such as diabetes.
If you’ve lost sensation in your foot, you may not feel anything if the numb heel is lightly touched. You also may not feel changes in temperature or have trouble keeping your balance while walking. Other symptoms of a numb heel include:
Sometimes, pain, burning, and swelling may accompany the numbness, depending on what’s causing the numbness. If you have severe symptoms along with numbness, see a doctor immediately because the combination of symptoms may indicate a stroke.
A numb heel is most commonly caused by blood flow constriction or nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy. The causes include:
About 50 percent of older people with diabetes have diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage in hands or feet. The lack of feeling in feet may come on gradually. If you have diabetes, it’s important to check your feet for symptoms such as tingling or numbness. See your doctor if you notice any changes.
This is known as hypothyroidism. If your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone, it can create a buildup of fluid over time. This produces pressure on your nerves, which can cause numbness.
Pinched nerve in lower back
A lower back nerve that transmits signals between your brain and your leg can misfire when it’s pinched, causing numbness in your leg and foot.
If the outer part of a disk on your back (also known as a slipped disk) ruptures or separates, it can put pressure on an adjoining nerve. This can lead to numbness in your leg and foot.
When a spinal nerve root in your lower back is compressed or injured, it can lead to numbness in your leg and foot.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
The tarsal tunnel is a narrow passage that runs along the bottom of your foot, starting at the ankle. The tibial nerve runs inside the tarsal tunnel and may become compressed. This can result from an injury or swelling. A main symptom of tarsal tunnel syndrome is numbness in your heel or foot.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency
Low vitamin B-12 levels are common, especially in older people. Numbness and tingling in your feet is one of the symptoms. Low levels of vitamins B-1, B-6, and E can also cause peripheral neuropathy and foot numbness.
Compressed or trapped nerve
This can occur in particular nerves in your legs and feet as a result of injury. Repetitive stress over time may also restrict a nerve, as surrounding muscle and tissue is inflamed. If an injury is the cause, you might have swelling or bruising in your foot as well.
Tight shoes that constrict your feet can create paresthesia (a pins-and-needles sensation) or temporary numbness.
Gastric bypass surgery
Poisons and chemotherapy
Heavy metals and medications used for treating cancer may cause peripheral neuropathy.
Blood flow constriction
When your heel and foot don’t get enough nutrients and oxygen because of blood flow constriction, your heel or foot may become numb. Your blood flow can be constricted by:
- frostbite in ultra-cold temperatures
- peripheral artery disease (narrowing of the blood vessels)
- deep vein thrombosis (blood clot)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (condition that affects your blood vessels)
Peripheral neuropathy in pregnancy can result from nerve compression related to the body’s changes. Neuropathy is common during pregnancy.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome causes heel numbness in pregnant women, as it does in other people. Symptoms usually clear up after the baby is born. Most neuropathies during pregnancy are reversible.
Some nerve injuries occur during labor, especially prolonged labor, when a local anesthetic (epidural) is used. This is very rare. A 2015 study reported that out of 2,615 women who received epidural anesthesia during delivery, only one had numb heels after delivery.
Your doctor will examine your feet and ask you questions about your medical history. They’ll want to know if you have a history of diabetes or drink a lot of alcohol. The doctor will also ask specific questions about the numbness, such as:
- when the numbness began
- whether it’s in one foot or both feet
- whether it’s constant or intermittent
- if there are other symptoms
- if anything relieves the numbness
The doctor may order tests. These could include:
- an MRI scan to look at your spine
- an X-ray to check for a fracture
- an electromyograph (EMG) to see how your feet react to electrical stimulation
- nerve conduction studies
- blood tests to check for blood sugar and markers for diseases
Your treatment will depend on the diagnosis. If the numbness is caused by an injury, disease, or nutritional deficiency, your doctor will map out a treatment plan to address the underlying cause of numbness.
The doctor may suggest physical therapy to help you adapt to walking and standing with numb heels and to improve your balance. They may also recommend exercises to increase circulation in your feet.
If you have severe pain along with heel numbness, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), or prescription drugs.
Here are a few other treatment alternatives for pain you may want to try:
See a doctor as soon as possible if your heel numbness follows an injury or if you have severe symptoms along with numbness, which may indicate a stroke.
If you’re already being treated for diabetes or alcohol dependency or another risk factor, see your doctor as soon as you notice heel numbness.