Foot Conditions A-Z
Neuropathy (damage to the nerves) due to diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) is the most common cause of numbness in the feet. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and have experienced numbness or tingling in your feet, it is likely that you have diabetic neuropathy.
The greatest danger of extended numbness and lack of sensation is unrecognized trauma to the feet. Damage goes unrecognized because you don’t feel pain (or any sensation) in the affected area. This is especially dangerous for people with diabetes, and can lead to ulceration, infection, and possibly even amputation in severe cases.
According to the 2012 National Foot Health Assessment conducted for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health by the NPD Group, 7 percent of U.S. adults age 21 and older (about 16 million people) have experienced numbness in their feet.
About the illustration: Nylon monofilament test for numbness or lack of sensitivity in the feet: A 10 gauge nylon monofilament attached to a handle is pressed against the foot at multiple separate locations with just enough pressure to bend the filament. If the person feels the filament at each location, he or she is directed to say "yes." Inability to feel the filament at any of the locations indicates loss of protective sensation in that area.
Numbness in the feet is characterized by lack of sensation to touch and/or a tingling feeling--under no circumstances is this lack of sensation "normal." Neuropathy can also cause pain to radiate through the feet and toes.
A number of diseases, disorders and behaviors can cause numbness in one or both feet. Read more about some of these causes by clicking on the related web links. The most common causes include the following:
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Injury to a nerve, especially a lower back injury (which can cause numbness or tingling down the back of the leg and into the feet)
- Pressure on the spinal nerves, especially from a herniated disk
- Lack of blood supply, often due to plaque buildup from atherosclerosis in the legs (vascular claudication)
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Transient ischemic attack
- Underactive thyroid
- Raynaud's disease
- Certain medications (read labels carefully and discuss potential side effects with your doctor)
- Toxic action on nerves, such as that from lead, alcohol, or tobacco
- Radiation therapy
- Abnormal levels of calcium, potassium, or sodium in the body
- Low levels of vitamin B12 or other vitamins
- Overexposure to cold temperatures or frostbite
- Remaining in the same seated or standing position for an extended period
Prevention and Treatment
If you have one or more of the disorders noted above, or another systemic cause of numbness/neuropathy, follow your doctor’s advice and take all medications as prescribed.
To help ensure that your feet are optimally protected, IPFH suggests that you wear only properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with shoes with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional. Peer-reviewed, published studies have shown that wearing clinically tested padded socks can help protect against injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot, a major cause of diabetic ulcerations.
Numbness anywhere in the body can be either a temporary phenomenon or a very serious medical condition. If it does not pass quickly (within a day or two), see your doctor to get both a diagnosis of the cause and recommendations for treatment.