What It Means When Your Foot Goes Numb

Curling your legs up under you is fantastic when you're ready to watch a movie. But the moment that you go to move, your foot has fallen asleep. It has a weird, prickly feeling that can get downright painful. That temporary numbness of your foot when you sit on it too long or go too long without changing your position is called "temporary paresthesia," according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Temporary paresthesia can happen on any part of your body and is caused by temporary nerve compression. Once the pressure is off, the feeling returns to normal, states the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It can also be caused by dehydration and Raynaud's syndrome, which limits blood flow into your fingers and toes (per Cleveland Clinic).

However, some people have chronic paresthesia in their feet due to Lyme disease, spinal conditions, tarsal tunnel syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, or frostbite. Let's learn more about these more serious conditions that cause foot numbness and discuss when it might be time to see the doctor.

Lyme disease

If you've been bitten by a deer tick and are experiencing foot numbness, Lyme disease can be one place to look. This is an inflammatory disease caused by bacteria that are transmitted by ticks when they bite, states the Center for Peripheral Neuropathy. The disease spreads through the body rapidly, but the first indicators include flu-like symptoms and a bull's eye skin rash.

Advanced Foot & Ankle of Wisconsin, LLC also notes that infected individuals can experience pain in the ankles, heels, and toes. The numbness and tingling come into play as the disease progresses through your system, leading to peripheral neuropathy. You can also experience swelling of the feet and ankles, which makes weight-bearing and walking painful. As the disease progresses, arthritis may find its way into the joints.

Diagnosing the disease early is pivotal to curing it. Once it has been diagnosed, healthcare professionals prescribe a round, or multiple rounds, of antibiotics, depending on how long the condition has been in the body. Those with later stages of the disease need a longer round of antibiotics, states Penn Medicine.

Spinal conditions

When trying to find the source of your foot numbness, follow the chain of nerves to your back and spine. Did you possibly pick up something heavy or maybe twist your back? Small discs that cushion the bones of your back can herniate from strain or injury. They also get weaker with age since the pillowy consistency of these shock absorbers disintegrates with time, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Numbness, pain, and leg weakness are the most common symptoms.

Sciatica could also be the culprit. This is a spinal symptom caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve due to piriformis syndrome, herniated disc, pelvic injury, or tumors, states Penn Medicine. Since the sciatic nerve runs down the leg, compression leads to pain, a pins-and-needles feeling, and weakness. The pain can worsen after sitting, sneezing, coughing, bending backward, or straining.

Those with lumbar spinal stenosis commonly complain of leg numbness and pain, back pain, foot weakness, and sexual dysfunction. The pain and numbness are from the narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar area, which is the lower back area, states Johns Hopkins Medicine. The treatment of spinal trauma and disease depends on the severity of the condition; physical therapy and pain medications are the first line of defense. Severe cases might require surgery.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome

You probably know or have heard of someone who's experienced carpal tunnel syndrome. But you can also have tarsal tunnel syndrome in your feet. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the tarsal tunnel is located in your ankle and is responsible for much of its movement and flexibility. It can also compress the posterior tibial nerve, leading to burning in the foot, shooting pain, numbness, and pins and needles.

Individuals with diabetes, flat feet, varicose veins, or arthritis could be at greater risk for developing this disease. It's also found in those who've experienced injury to the foot like a sprain, states StatPearls. You'll need to visit your healthcare provider and possibly get imaging for a definitive diagnosis. 

Several nonsurgical approaches to the treatment of tarsal tunnel syndrome are available, like rest, ice, over-the-counter medications, braces, and physical therapy. Those dealing with chronic pain might try injections or orthotic devices to keep the foot in the proper position and relieve the pressure on the nerve. Severe cases require surgery to release the pressure on the nerve through a tarsal tunnel release, where the surgeon cuts along the nerve to create more room.

Peripheral neuropathy

The nervous system is a workhorse split into two distinct branches. You've got your central nervous system, which includes your brain and spine. Then, there is the peripheral nervous system, which is everything else (per National Cancer Institute). These nerves branch out from the central nervous system, allowing you to experience all the world's beautiful sights, smells, and textures. It's called "peripheral neuropathy" when things go awry in the peripheral nervous system.

Numbness is due to your sensory nerves (which allow you to experience pain, temperature, or vibrations) experiencing damage to trauma. The onset is typically gradual, but numbness and tingling in the hands and feet are common. Individuals can also feel odd pains like when putting a blanket on their feet or touch sensitivity, states Mayo Clinic.

The causes of this condition are vast. But a few of the biggest offenders include autoimmune diseases like lupus or Guillain-Barre syndrome (via National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). It's also common in those suffering from diabetes. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about one-third to one-half of those with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy. Beyond systemic diseases, nutritional imbalances, toxin exposures, and hormonal imbalances might also be diagnosed. Treatment often depends on the cause of the disorder, so it might require invasive testing. 


Frostbite isn't a common condition, but it does happen. According to the Journal of Burn Care & Research, about 0.83 out of every 100,000 people experience frostbite a year in the U.S. 

It's also one of those conditions you might not realize you have right away since it makes the area that endured the frostbite go completely numb. It's most common in areas further away from the heart, like the fingers, toes, nose, and ears. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states this is because when the body gets too cold, it shifts blood toward your core and away from your extremities.

Frostbite happens when your body is exposed to extreme cold or windy conditions. And it can happen in as little as five minutes, states WebMD. It also has different stages depending on the severity. Early stages cause numbness, burning, and yellow or white skin, while the advanced stage includes skin that eventually turns black.

It's essential to get treatment immediately to avoid damage to the nerves of the foot. So, get indoors as soon as possible to get your body warm. You'll also want to sit down, keep pressure off your injured feet, and make sure the feet are dry. NHS advises that gently rewarming the feet by putting them in a warm bath is vital. Rewarming needs to be repeated daily until the damage has healed. Severe cases require medical intervention to improve blood flow.