Having numbness in the foot can be a strange sensation, as for the majority of the day, our feet are often planted on the ground. We are used to feeling the ground beneath us: whether its direct contact with the ground or through the sole of our shoe, their positioning beneath us is vital to traverse this complicated world. Depending on the cause, numbness experienced in your feet is often preceded by a pin-and-needles like sensation, or pricking or burning feelings called paresthesia. Other causes of numbness may result in foot weakness and possible loss of movement of the foot.
Depending on the cause of its occurrence, numbness in the foot can be temporary, going away in just a few minutes, or even chronic and a manifestation of a greater problem, leading to a more serious loss of nerve innervation and loss of sensation.
Symptoms of foot numbness
The most common presenting symptom of a numb foot is the loss of sensation, meaning you cannot feel any pain or tactile stimulation when poking the appendage. This will most likely affect your sense of touch and balance, as these are factors that your foot normally uses to judge the world around you and gauge its movements accordingly. Most people have had some experience with this phenomenon at least once in their lives, as the transient form commonly occurs when sitting for extended periods of time than standing up, only to reveal you can’t move to your foot due to it being numb. The following are various symptoms you may feel doing incidents such as the one mentioned:
- Burning feeling
- Leg numbness
- Pins and needles feeling or pricking sensation
- Sensitivity to touch
Fortunately, most of the time these symptoms resolve shortly in more transient cases, but there exist more chronic cases where this is a constant occurrence stemming from poor blood perfusion and even tissue damage.
What causes numbness in the foot?
Foot numbness is usually just a symptom of another problem, causing a lack of blood supply to the area or nerve damage. A wide variety of disorders may cause the phenomenon to occur, with prolonged pressure on the foot—such as wearing tight fitting shoes—being a common cause.
Disorders and diseases that affect the circulatory system or damage the nervous system are considered the most likely reasons for experiencing a chronically numb foot. It may have a mild, moderate, or severe presentation, often signifying an underlying cause being the reason for its occurrence. External factors such as injury or trauma may also bring on a similar presentation. Your doctor will be able to look for any additional signs that may point to a particular diagnosis that is associated with a numb foot. Having it present in one foot or both of them is also a vital clue to the underlying cause. The following are various diagnoses where a numb foot may be part of its presentation:
- Alcoholism or chronic alcohol abuse
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Diabetes and diabetic neuropathy
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Herniated disk
- Lyme disease
- Morton’s neuroma
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Side effect of chemotherapy
- Spinal cord injury
- Vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessels
Complications of foot numbness
Losing all sensation in the foot can spell trouble in the long run, as there is no way to tell if your foot gets hurt or becomes infected without directly looking at it. Serious illnesses such as diabetes can lead to chronic numbness in the foot, which leads to ulcers that bleed and have poor wound healing due to a compromised blood supply to the lower limb. If treatment is not carried out right away in these chronic conditions the following complications are likely to occur:
- Inability to walk
- Permanent loss of sensation
- Inability to walk
When to see a doctor?
In normal healthy individuals who do not have any serious health complications, experiencing a brief loss of sensation as a result of compression on the legs or feet for prolonged periods will often resolve on its own. However, if you happen to experience this type of numbing sensation more often and with no obvious cause, it may be worth getting it looked at by a doctor or medical professional. If numbness in the foot occurs suddenly with other symptoms such as difficulty breathing, seek medical attention right away, as this may signal a more serious and life-threatening complication.
Diagnosis of numbness in foot
Having a chronically numb foot is often a presenting symptom of a more serious underlying condition, and your doctor will often be prompted to think of all the various causes of such a symptom and perform diagnostic tests accordingly. This will most likely be done first with a brief history of the presenting symptom, ruling out any acute causes of having numbness in the foot, followed by a physical examination of the foot or feet in question. It will take the form of a range of motion test, nerve stimulation, vibration testing, and pain stimulation to get a good idea of the extent of the damage if present. Next, a series of diagnostic tests may be ordered, they may include the following, looking for clues to an underlying cause
- Blood tests
- Cerebral spinal fluid analysis
- Electromyogram (EMG)
- Nerve conduction velocity (NCV)
- Computed tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nerve biopsy
- Skin biopsy
How to treat numbness in the foot?
If an accurate diagnosis is made using the previously mentioned diagnostic methods than treatment of any underlying condition is the best way to relieve a chronically numb foot, as long as no severe damage has already taken place. For a condition such as diabetes, having good blood sugar control will adequately slow down the progression of diabetic neuropathy—a cause of numbness and tingling in the feet. If a vitamin deficiency is a culprit, supplementation of the vitamin raising low levels will often suffice.
Generally speaking, keeping a healthy lifestyle—such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, and eating a balanced diet—will keep you in good health and decrease your risk of developing a condition that brings on symptoms such as a numb foot. Recommendations also include quitting smoking, which is known for constricting blood vessels and restricting blood supply.