What Can Cause Numbness in Feet?

Medically Reviewed By Heidi Moawad, M.D.
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Numbness in feet is a symptom involving sensation loss in one or both feet. It often occurs due to nerve damage or a lack of blood supply to the area. Persistant numbness may indicate a serious underlying condition. Numbness in the feet may occur with painful, prickling, or burning sensations. Some people may have extreme sensitivity to the point that even the touch of bed sheets on their feet causes pain.

Depending on the cause, the loss of sensation can disappear quickly, such as numbness after sitting for a long time that will fade away once you move your legs and feet around. Chronic numbness in the feet generally indicates some level of damage to the nerves.

Because numbness in the feet may be a symptom of an underlying condition, talk with your medical professional about any unusual sensations or foot numbness that lasts more than a few minutes.

What causes foot numbness?

Overhead photo of unseen person's feet on bed wearing pink and blue socks
Jovana Rikalo/Stocksy United

Foot numbness can be a symptom of a wide variety of conditions that restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves.

Circulatory causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness can result from a lack of blood flow to the foot due to such conditions as the following:

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is the most common vascular cause of foot numbness. PAD is a narrowing of the arteries over time due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the leg that can break loose and cause a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke. DVT is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures can constrict small blood vessels and cause numbness. Frostbite requires urgent care to prevent tissue death and other complications.

Learn more about the function and conditions of the circulatory system.

Neurological causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness can be a symptom or complication of certain neurological conditions, including:

  • alcohol use disorder
  • heavy metal poisoning
  • hypothyroidism
  • multiple sclerosis
  • peripheral neuropathy, which is commonly a complication of long term diabetes
  • spinal cord injury or tumor
  • stroke
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • transverse myelitis

Numbness in the feet is just one symptom among many associated with each of these conditions. Doctors will evaluate foot numbness in the context of all symptoms you may be experiencing to help reach an accurate diagnosis for the cause.

Learn 8 reasons to see a neurologist.

Orthopedic causes of foot numbness

Foot numbness may also occur due to moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves or affect blood flow, including:

Learn more about common back and spine conditions.

Your podiatrist or other healthcare professional can help you receive an accurate diagnosis for the cause of numbness if your feet. From there, you can work together to develop an effective treatment plan.

When should you be concerned about numbness in feet?

Contact a medical professional if you have foot numbness that:

  • does not go away
  • gets worse
  • spreads beyond the initial site
  • comes and goes often
  • affects your ability to do certain physical activities
  • occurs with other symptoms:

This could indicate a more serious underlying condition that needs prompt treatment.

In some cases, foot numbness may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life threatening condition that require immediate evaluation in an emergency setting.

Get immediate help by calling 911 for numbness in the feet that occurs with any of these life threatening symptoms:

  • confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment
  • difficulty breathing or walking
  • dizziness
  • foot numbness following a back injury
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • changes in vision or loss of vision
  • paralysis
  • slurred speech
  • sudden numbness
  • weakness

How do doctors diagnose the cause of numbness in feet?

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will consider your medical history and symptoms. They will also perform a physical exam of your feet and any other areas of your body that may be related to an underlying cause.

Tests for neuropathy

For people with diabetes, doctors recommend an annual exam to check for neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves in the extremities, including the feet. This exam may include a:

  • test that places a tuning fork against your toes and feet to see if you can feel the vibration
  • monofilament test, in which a doctor touches your feet and toes with a nylon strand to determine if you can feel it
  • test of your balance and walking
  • test to see if your feet can detect differences in temperature
  • look at your feet for sores, more paleness than usual, or swelling

Learn more about neuropathy symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Tests for PAD

If you have risk factors for PAD and you have numbness in your feet, your doctor may perform diagnostic tests including:

  • blood tests, to check blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels
  • ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, which compares the blood pressure in your ankle with the blood pressure in your arm
  • ABI test exercise test, to see how your symptoms change after physical activity
  • Doppler ultrasound, to identify blockages or areas of reduced blood flow in the arteries
  • walking test, to measure the distance you can walk for 6 minutes
  • segmented Doppler pressure testing, which uses multiple cuffs along your leg for a more detailed blood pressure measurement
  • using a stethoscope to listen for atypical blood flow sounds in your legs

Learn more about PAD symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.

What are the treatments for numbness in feet?

Treatment for foot numbness will depend on the underlying cause.

Neuropathy treatment

Neuropathy itself can have a variety of underlying causes. Treatment for neuropathy often includes lifestyle changes that can allow nerves to regain function. These include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • eating a nutritious diet
  • trying to quit smoking, or avoiding smoking altogether
  • exercising regularly
  • managing blood glucose levels, for people with diabetes

Medications can help treat nerve pain and provide temporary symptom relief. These include:

  • antidepressants
  • anticonvulsants
  • skin patches or creams that contain lidocaine

PAD treatment

If your foot numbness is due to PAD, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, or surgical procedures. These can help improve blood flow and restore sensation and function.

Lifestyle changes to help prevent PAD and reduce the risk of complications include:

  • eating heart-healthy foods, such as those in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • trying to quit smoking, or avoiding smoking altogether
  • exercising regularly
  • managing stress
  • getting quality sleep

Medications for PAD include:

  • statins, which reduce cholesterol levels
  • ACE inhibitors, which prevent blood vessels from constricting
  • antiplatelet medicines, which prevent blood clots

Surgical procedures to treat PAD include angioplasty, which uses a stent to open blocked arteries, and bypass surgery, in which surgeons build a pathway around a blockage using a piece of blood vessel from a different part of your body.

Your doctor will discuss all of your available treatments options, including potential risks and side effects, to find the one that’s right for you.

Other frequently asked questions

These are some other questions people often ask about numbness in feet. Heidi Moawad, MD, reviewed the answers.

Can high blood pressure cause numb feet?

High blood pressure can be an indicator of PAD. This condition can cause narrowing of blood vessels in the feet, resulting in numbness.

If you have a family history of PAD or other risk factors, contact your doctor right away if you experience numb feet. Effective treatment of PAD can reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Is numbness a serious problem?

Numbness throughout the body can have many causes, some serious. Numbness due to PAD or diabetic neuropathy can indicate the development of complications from these conditions. Without treatment, progression of PAD or diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, or limb loss.

Can numbness go away by itself?

In some cases, numbness occurs due to a temporary situation, such as sitting in one position for too long or being in cold temperatures. Once you change your position or your environment, the numbness typically goes away. If you have numbness that persists, contact your doctor. It could be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.

Summary

Numbness in feet can have many causes. Most often, numbness occurs due to nerve damage or restricted blood flow.

Conditions such as PAD or peripheral neuropathy are more serious causes of foot numbness. Without treatment, they can increase a person’s risk of heart attack, stroke, or even limb loss.

Talk with your doctor if you have foot numbness that does not go away, gets worse, or occurs with other symptoms that cause you concern.

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Medical Reviewer: Heidi Moawad, M.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 30
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