Numb feet: causes and symptoms of numbness

Numb feet or numbness in the feet can be a strange sensation that will leave you wondering what is going on. Depending on the cause, numbness in your feet is often preceded by the feeling of tiny pins and needles in the skin, or prickling or burning sensations called paresthesia. The possible causes of numb feet or numb soles can lead to weakness of the foot and possible loss of foot movement. Depending on the cause of numb feet, numbness in the foot can be temporary, going away in just a few minutes, or long-term or even chronic. The numbness can be under the feet, or on the sides or more on the feet or in several places of the foot.

  • Numb feet
  • Sometimes underlying problem
  • Paresthesia
  • Symptoms of numb feet
  • Complications of foot numbness
  • Cause of numbness in the foot
  • Temporary nerve compression
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Problems in the spine
  • Hernia
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Interview and physical examination
  • Follow-up research
  • Treatment of numb feet

 Numb feet is a common problem / Source: Sole lover, Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

Numb feet

Sometimes underlying problem

Numb feet is a common problem characterized by a decrease or complete loss of sensation in the foot. Often it is nothing to worry about and has to do with a temporarily pinched nerve due to shoes you wear or the awkward way you sit. But in some cases, numbness in the foot can indicate a more serious underlying problem.


Numbness in the foot is often associated with other sensations, usually pain, burning and/or pins and needles in the skin (tingling or pricking sensation), which is known as paresthesia, a sensory disturbance. Numb feet can occur in one or both feet, depending on the underlying cause. Left untreated it can progress to weakness and reduced control of foot movements.

Symptoms of numb feet

The most common symptom of a numb foot is loss of sensation, meaning you cannot feel pain or other sensation. This will likely affect your sense of touch and balance. Sensory disturbances in the feet disrupt the sense of balance. This is because you do not know where your feet are and what kind of surface you are actually standing on. Numb feet may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • fear
  • burning feeling
  • itch
  • numbness in the legs
  • tingling
  • stinging sensation
  • sensitivity to touch

Fortunately , these symptoms are usually short-lived, but there are more chronic cases where this is a constant phenomenon resulting from poor blood supply, nerve damage or tissue damage.

Complications of foot numbness

Loss of sensation in the foot can cause problems in the long term, as it may prevent you from noticing wounds or infections. Diseases such as diabetes can lead to chronic numbness in the foot, leading to ulcers that bleed and poor wound healing due to compromised blood flow to the lower extremities. If not treated right away, the following complications can occur:

  • inability to walk
  • loss of function
  • paralysis
  • permanent loss of sensation
  • inability to walk
  • amputation


Cause of numbness in the foot

Numb feet develop when there is a communication problem between the central and peripheral nervous systems. The peripheral nervous system is the connection between the central nervous system and the body. Numbness in the foot develops when a communication problem occurs in the nervous system. Sensory nerves receive stimuli such as pressure and temperature information and send electrochemical signals to the brain for interpretation. The brain then sends a corresponding signal back to the nerve. Damage to the nerve affects this communication and numbness in the foot usually occurs when these signals are no longer established. Your body then loses the ability to sense sensory input, such as heat or cold and light or firm pressure, causing numbness. The sensation of pins and needles often occurs when there is nerve pain. If there is a disturbance in the conduction of signals somewhere in the nervous system, spontaneous pain stimuli can arise.The most common causes of foot and foot numbness can be split into two categories: numbness caused by nerve damage and numbness caused by decreased blood flow.

Temporary nerve compression

Numb feet often develop after sitting in an uncomfortable position for a while, such as with your legs crossed, or when wearing tight shoes. This is because the pressure on the nerves and surrounding blood vessels reduces the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the nerve. The foot gradually ‘falls asleep’ and loss of sensation occurs. Your foot ‘sleeps’, as it were, and a numb feeling occurs. When you start moving again, you realize that you can no longer feel your foot. Tingling and pricking sensations soon occur as nerve function recovers. After a few minutes your foot will be back to normal and it will feel normal again.

Peripheral neuropathy

Damage to the nerves in the leg and foot is a common cause of numb feet. Your nervous system can be divided into:

  • central nervous system: brain and spinal cord (the control center)
  • peripheral nervous system: this forms the connection between the central nervous system and the muscles and senses

Damage to the peripheral nervous system is known as peripheral neuropathy and affects the way signals are transmitted from the nerves to the central nervous system, often causing foot paralysis. There are a number of different causes of peripheral neuropathy, including:

  • Diabetes: Accounts for approximately 30% of all peripheral neuropathy cases
  • systemic diseases, such as kidney disease, vascular damage, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalance, liver disease, cancers and tumors

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to peripheral neuropathy / Source: Marian Weyo/

  • vitamin deficiencies
  • alcoholism
  • infections, such as Lyme disease
  • side effects of medications (drug-induced peripheral neuropathy is not that common)

Peripheral neuropathy often presents with pain, weakness, altered balance and coordination, pins and needles sensations, and numb feet.

Problems in the spine

Certain problems in the spine that affect the nerves as they emerge from the spinal cord (two nerve bundles emerge from the spinal cord between the vertebrae, the spinal nerves), can cause numb feet. The two most common causes are:


A hernia indicates an intervertebral disc that is bulging out. This can press on a nerve root, which can lead to pain in one buttock or leg. You can feel the pain in the lower leg, sometimes even in the foot. You may also suffer from numb feet. The symptoms are usually worse when you bend over or cough or sneeze

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal, causing compression of the spine and nerve roots. It often causes bilateral foot numbness that improves when you bend over.General practitioner examines a foot / Source: Alexander Raths/

Examination and diagnosis

Interview and physical examination

A chronically numb foot is often a symptom of a more serious underlying condition. The doctor will ask questions about your complaints and take your medical history into account. He will want to rule out acute causes of numbness in the foot. This is followed by a physical examination of the foot or feet in question. The doctor will investigate whether and to what extent you experience pain, whether any functional limitations have occurred, etc.

Follow-up research

A series of diagnostic tests can then be used, including:

  • blood test
  • cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis to look for conditions that affect your brain and spine
  • electromyogram (EMG), a muscle and nerve examination in which the electrical activity of various muscles and nerves is recorded
  • nerve conduction velocity (NCV) or nerve conduction study to assess nerve damage and disorders,
  • CT-scan
  • MRI scan
  • nerve biopsy
  • skin biopsy

 Quit smoking / Source: Serhiy Kobyakov/

Treatment of numb feet

If an accurate diagnosis is made using the aforementioned diagnostic methods, the doctor will then assess which treatment is indicated. In a condition like diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels under control will sufficiently slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy, which is a cause of numbness and tingling in the feet. Regular monitoring of the feet is also recommended. If a vitamin deficiency is the culprit, vitamin supplementation will often be sufficient.In general, a healthy lifestyle, such as maintaining an optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins and eating a varied and healthy diet, is the best way to reduce the risk of developing a condition that causes symptoms such as a numb foot . reduce. In addition, it is important to quit smoking, as smoking constricts blood vessels and restricts blood flow. Drinking moderate to no alcohol is also recommended.

read more

  • Numb Toes: Causes and Symptoms of Numb Toes
  • Numbness: numbness in the leg, foot, arm and hand with tingling
  • Tingling feet and hands: causes of tingling
  • Tingling toes & fingers: causes & symptoms of tingling
  • Tingling: causes of a tingling sensation in the body

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