Numb Feet – Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Preventive Measures
what does it mean when your foot goes numb?
Numb feet and toes are a fairly commonly occurring problem, and they can be identified by a reduction in sensation or even a complete lack of sensation within the foot or toes.
In most cases, it is not much cause to worry about as it could have been caused by a nerve been pulled due to sitting in one position for too long (Paresthesia). But in certain cases, it can be an indication of a severe underlying medical ailment.
In certain cases, the numbness in your feet might also cause other sensation, for instance, a burning sensation, ache, tingling, or prickling of needles, which are all collectively termed as paraesthesia. These can occur in both or just one foot, based on the underlying ailment that is causing them.
If you ignore these sensations for prolonged periods of time instead of seeking treatment, it can develop into a chronic weakness that will reduce your control over basic foot movements.
Let’s proceed towards discussing the most prevalent causes of feet numbness, why they occur and how to examine the severity of your case along with suitable treatments.
What Causes Numb Toes & Feet?
It all begins when the sensory nerves intercept stimulus, which could be temperature or pressure, and they dispatch electrochemical signals towards the brain. Then, the brain responds with a signal towards the sensory nerves. When our nerves get damaged, this circle gets broken, and this lack of effective communication can often cause numbness in our feet.
You see, it renders our body incapable of feeling the sensations of hot or cold, or even heavy or light, causing it to become numb. In certain cases where we feel the sensations of prickling, these sensations can be explained by the erratic production of nerve signals.
Let’s look at some of the more serious causes of feet numbness, how they occur and how they can be treated:
Damaged Peripheral Nervous System
Our peripheral nervous system consists of the nerves that travel all around our body, and if the nerves within our feet or leg are damaged, they can cause severe numbness in our feet.
Experts have coined the term, peripheral neuropathy, to refer to the damage incurred by our peripheral nervous system, which halts the transfer of signals from the nerves to the central nervous system, causing foot numbness.
Now, this can occur due to several reasons and ailments, for instance, diabetes often tends to cause peripheral neuropathy. In fact, it accounts for nearly 30% of all the cases recorded of peripheral neuropathy.
Similarly, diseases such as cancers, tumors, chronic inflammation, kidney disorder, vasculitis and liver disease also tend to cause nerve damage.
Problems or injuries to the spine can often impair the nerves coming out of the spinal cord, causing numbness of the feet. Now, this could be due to two extremely common reasons.
Firstly, it could be a herniated disc, also referred to as a slipped disc, which basically develops when one of the spinal discs are under severe pressure causing it to move and press on a nerve close by. It causes severe low back aches, which often spread towards the leg, causing weakness and prickling sensations.
The second could be spinal stenosis, which is basically when narrow spinal canals cause a lot of pressure to develop on the nerves, leading to bilateral numbness in the feet.
Temporary Nerve Compression
In less risky cases, we tend to experience mild numbness in our feet after sitting in the same position for long periods of time. We often refer to this situation as by using the term ‘gone to sleep’ for our feet or other body parts that tend to become compressed while we assume a sitting position for too long.
However, as soon as we stand and our blood flow resumes its normal voyage through our body, the numbness tends to wear off and we often feel a prickling sensation right before the blood circulation brings back the sensation of our feet.
There are several other conditions that can lead to the development of numbness in the feet. These include:
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Chronic alcohol abuse
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme Disease
- Herniated disk
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Spinal cord injuries
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Chemotherapy side-effects
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Morton’s neuroma
Symptoms of Numbness in Foot
The most important symptom in feet numbness is the lack of sensation, the fact that you are unable to feel, touch or balance yourself because you simply cannot feel your feet against the surface.
Along with sensation loss, feet numbness tends to manifest itself with several other symptoms, and certain abnormal sensations.
The most common symptoms include:
- Pins and needle sensations
- Prickling and tingling
Symptoms triggered by Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most common causes of chronic feet and toes numbness, and it works by damaging our nerves and reducing the blood circulation received by our feet.
Patients suffering from diabetes tend to suffer severe numbness, which often causes them to not feel the sensations of heat or blisters, and since lack of adequate circulation slows down the healing process, they are at a grave risk for infections.
Therefore, diabetic patients must take good care of their feet at all times.
Your goal must be effectively managing your diabetes and normalizing your blood glucose levels so you prevent neuropathy and improve blood circulation, both of which will aid in preventing the occurrence of numbness.
Be sure to regulate your blood sugar closely, and take out at least 30 minutes to exercise every single day no matter how difficult it gets.
Eat a wholesome and well-balanced diet consisting of fresh and healthy produce, low-fat dairy products, fatty fish, whole grains, lentils, and fruits. Also, be sure to abstain from smoking as it will only worsen the symptoms.
Symptoms Triggered by Obesity
Being overweight and obese tends to increase our risk of developing numb feet and toes, therefore, starting a healthy weight loss diet would always be a good way of eliminating these awful symptoms.
Shedding off those extra pounds will also help you reduce your blood pressure levels, which will also help in reducing the numbness. However, if weight loss doesn’t help improve your condition, you should consult your doctor to find the underlying cause behind your numb feet.
Symptoms that Indicate a Medical Emergency
If you are experiencing feet numbness along with some or any of the symptoms listed below, you must consult your doctor right away.
- Difficult moving, or walking.
- Being unable to lift up your feet
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
- Numbness in your groin (saddles anaesthesia)
- A state of confusion
- Difficulties of vision
- Shortness of breath
- Being unconscious
- Speech disturbances
- Trouble swallowing
- Severe ache that refuses to subside
Physical Examinations & Medical Tests
In most cases, chronic numbness of feet manifests itself as a symptom of a severe underlying ailment, and the doctor will be able to determine the diagnosis after analyzing all the various causes of this symptom.
He/she will also perform certain diagnostic tests after understanding the history of the symptom, accompanied by a physical examination of your feet.
Your feet will be exposed to motion tests, pain stimulation, nerve stimulation and vibration exams to determine the severity of the problem.
Further diagnostic tests will include, an Electromyogram (EMG), Computed Tomography (CT), blood tests, cerebral spinal fluid analysis, nerve biopsy, skin biopsy and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) amongst others.
Treating & Preventing Feet Numbness
Now that we have established a clear understanding of all the causes and symptoms of numb feet, let’s take a look at its various treatments and preventive measures.
Find the Underlying Cause
Once you have been given a diagnosis by the doctor and the underlying cause of the symptom has been ruled out, you will begin your treatment by eliminating the condition that is causing the feet numbness in the first place.
Control your Diabetes
If your condition is triggered by diabetes, you need to focus on controlling your blood sugar so you can slow down the development of diabetes-induced neuropathy, which may be causing the tingling sensations and numbness in your feet.
If you have difficulty moving, you can invest in certain products that are specifically designed to enhance movement for diabetic foot care.
For instance, you can buy compression hose and socks, which aid in enhancing circulation to decrease the numbness. You can also invest in specifically formulated lotions containing capsaicin that aid in relieving numb feet.
Correct Vitamin Deficiencies
If your numb feet are due to a vitamin deficiency, you need to add vitamin supplements to your daily diet so you can eliminate this deficiency. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any supplements, in fact, ask for suitable suggestions that are most beneficial for your particular condition.
A healthy lifestyle
Even though the damage tends to vary from case to case, generally, experts always advise patients suffering from chronic numb feet to develop a healthy and wholesome lifestyle that allows them to balance their weight, minimize their exposure to toxic environments and adopt a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.
Good health and essential nutrients are truly the best way to cut down your risk of developing chronic conditions that tend to trigger symptoms such as numb feet.
Experts also widely recommend against smoking, as it tends to constrict our blood vessels, hence also slowing down the blood supply received by our organs.
Always Discuss your Drugs with your Doctor
It is essential to always discuss all medications prescribed by your doctor in great detail so you understand the effects and side-effects of your treatments.
In most cases, chemotherapy drugs tend to cause severe numbness, along with several other prescription medications that treat a wide range of chronic conditions.
In certain cases, people experience numb feet after starting a new medication, therefore, making it necessary to discuss all the benefits and shortcomings of your treatment before you begin it so you can determine whether the benefits outweigh the side-effects or vice versa. You can always ask your doctor to eliminate the medicine with these side-effects and give you other alternatives.
For certain medicines, you might have to reduce your dosage, while some can be substituted with other formulas, It is essential that you inform your doctor of all these experiences as soon as they occur and discuss the suitable course of action.
Cut down your Alcohol Consumption
If you have a habit of hitting the bottle really hard every night, keep in mind that heavy indulgence in alcohol cause numb feet and lack of sensation in the limbs, particularly the feet and toes.
If you experience these symptoms and you’re a binge drinker, consider cutting down your alcohol consumption, which is highly likely to prevent the numbness from occurring. You can seek the help of a professional or join a support group to help get rid of your alcoholism.
Seek Proper Treatment for All Injuries
In certain cases, injuries that damage our spine, feet, ankles, head or toes often cause numbness in some parts of our body, particularly the feet and toes. The injury could have occurred while playing football, falling head over heels, or hurting your spine after a nasty fall.
If your injury has gone untreated or had seemingly improved without healing the underlying problem, it could trigger severe numbness. Therefore, it is essential to consult an orthopaedist, a neurologist or a chiropractor in case you have suffered an injury that is causing numb feet.