We all have, at some point of time, experienced numbness followed by tingling or pins and needles in our feet. It is often caused by prolonged sitting, standing or sleeping in a position where blood flow to the feet is reduced or blocked. Just moving about and enabling blood circulation usually makes the sensation go away.
However, there may be scenarios where tingling may indicate more serious issues.
When Should You Be Worried About Tingling In Feet?
Tingling feet can be a concern if it happens too often or is accompanied by pain, itching, numbness or muscle atrophy (partial or complete wasting of muscle when an individual suffers temporary disabling circumstances such as hospitalization).
Regular occurence of numbness and tingling in the feet usually implies nerve compression.
- If your toes go numb, nerve compression between the third and fourth toe, known as Morton’s neuroma, could be the culprit; it is often caused by wearing tight shoes or due to running on hard surfaces.
- If the entire lower feet goes numb, a nerve may be compressed in the ankle (tarsal tunnel).
- Numbness and tinkling on the upper part of the foot is most likely caused by tight shoes or shoelaces.
- Numbness and tingling in the entire foot, below the knee might point to compression of the popliteal artery that runs behind the knee.
- If the front or sides of your legs go numb and tingle and if you find it difficult to point your toes towards the body, the peroneal nerve may be compressed; the most common cause is habitual leg crossing.
If you get numbness or tingling in your toes when exposed to cold temperatures or when you are experiencing stress, you might be suffering from Raynaud’s disease. Raynaud’s disease causes a temporary narrowing of blood vessels which affects blood circulation. Over a period of time arteries may get narrower and the frequency of numbness and tingling may increase .
Low Back Pain
According to Harvard Medical School, Sciatica pain is felt along the course of the nerves and their branches, so while the problem originates in the lower lumbar region of the spine, the symptoms are felt mainly in the legs. Typical symptoms include pins and needles sensation or numbness in the foot.
Diabetic neuropathies are a range of nerve disorders caused by diabetes. Around 60 to 70% people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition where the nerves that carry messages to and fro from the rest of the body to the brain are damaged. Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common types of diabetic neuropathy that causes pain and numbness in the toes . In a U.S. population survey, 28% reported numbness and 27% reported pain or tingling .
Tingling feet and numbness are also indicators of prediabetes.
Systemic diseases are those that affect the entire body. Now, diseases of the kidney, liver, cardiovascular system, connective tissue and hormonal imbalances and tumors can cause numbness and tingling feet .
According to Harvard Medical school, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause numbness and tingling feet and shortness of breath.
Also, alcoholics are likely to have vitamin deficiencies that can lead to peripheral neuropathy. In case you are under the influence of alcohol for more than 10 years, it may damage the nerves causing tingling or numbness in the feet .
Exposure To Toxins
Regular exposure to toxins or chemicals can cause peripheral neuropathy. Prolonged exposure to lead, mercury, arsenic and thalium in the workplace or environment can cause pain, numbness or tingling feet .
Often related to trauma, nerves can be compressed, crushed or damaged, resulting in nerve pain. Examples include nerve compression caused by a herniated disc or dislocated bone.
Gangrene is a condition that occurs when the body tissue weakens. This is caused by a loss of blood supply to an underlying illness or an infection. This usually causes numbness in the feet.
Numbness and “pins and needles” in the feet, once in a while, is quite normal. However, recurrent, periodic tingling in specific parts of the foot is not to be taken lightly, especially if accompanied by pain. It is important to identify the cause of the tingling in such cases and get professional help to treat the problem.
- Hunt, John H. “The Raynaud phenomena: A critical review.” QJM 5.3 (1936): 399-444.
- Diabetic Neuropathies: The Nerve Damage of Diabetes, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders
- Preventive Foot Care in People With Diabetes, Diabetes Care
- Neuropathy, Diseases and Conditions, Cleveland Clinic
- Alcoholic neuropathy, U.S National Library of Medicine
- Toxins, The Foundation of Peripheral Neuropathy