Foot Numbness – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
Foot numbness, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is a problem that we see very often as foot and ankle specialists. Numbness may occur in the bottom of the feet, top of the feet, the toes or the legs. There are many causes for numbness in the legs, feet and toes. Foot numbness may be painful, but in some cases, it may present only as an annoying sensation or absence of sensation. The most common causes of numbness in the legs, feet and toes as well as treatment for numbness in the feet will be described below.
Symptoms of Foot Numbness
Patients with peripheral neuropathy, or foot numbness, may describe the sensation as a feeling of leather or cardboard on the bottom of their feet. Some compare the foot numbness to the tingling and swollen sensation we feel after a Novocaine injection during a dental procedure. Others complain of burning, extreme tightness, itching, crawling, weakness, cramping or freezing sensations combined with numbness in the legs, feet and toes. All of these complaints may suggest peripheral neuropathy and warrant further evaluation by your foot and ankle specialist, such as sensation testing in the physical exam, nerve conduction studies, nerve fiber density testing or quantitative sensory testing.
Causes of Foot Numbness
The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy or foot numbness in the US is diabetes. Other things such as thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, alcohol use, chemotherapy and other drugs may cause it as well. In addition, nerve entrapment at the level of the spinal cord may result in numbness in the legs, feet or toes.
Trauma or entrapment to the peripheral nerves beyond the level of the spine may also result in foot numbness. For instance, common peroneal nerve entrapment results in numbness, pain or weakness on the leg or ankle, or numbness in the top of the foot. Superficial peroneal nerve entrapment causes numbness only on the top of the foot and toes. Deep peroneal nerve entrapment causes numbness only in the toes. Tarsal tunnel syndrome, or posterior tibial nerve entrapment, causes numbness or pain in the bottom of the foot.
Treatment for Foot Numbness
Numbness in the feet, whether it be in the legs, top or bottom of the foot, or the toes, may be treated with certain types of physical therapy, such as anodyne therapy. In diabetics, better control of their glucose levels may diminish the sensation of numbness in the feet and legs. Supplementation of B vitamins may also result in improvement in foot numbness, as well as alpha lipoic acid. If nerve entrapment is known to be the cause of the numbness in the foot, legs or toes, then surgical decompression of the nerve either at the spinal cord level or in the leg or foot itself may provide relief.
There are many causes for foot numbness. Treatment options are available and are based on the underlying cause. One should see a foot and ankle specialist if they experience numbness in the feet, legs or toes.