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Toe Numbness

What Is Toe Numbness?

Toe numbness is a symptom that occurs when the sensation in your toes is affected. The effects may be the absence of sensation or tingling and/or burning sensations. This effect can make walking difficult or even painful.

Toe numbness can be a temporary symptom, or it can be a chronic symptom for some people. Chronic toe numbness is a concern because it affects your walking abilities and can lead to injuries and wounds you may be unaware of. While toe numbness can be a cause of concern, it’s rarely considered a medical emergency.

What Are the Signs of Toe Numbness?

Toe numbness is an abnormal sensation in the toes that often reduces your ability to feel the ground underneath you or your toes themselves. You may also feel tingling sensations up your legs or in your toes as sensation returns and the numbness goes away. Numbness can also cause a pins-and-needles feeling in your toes. This can occur in only one foot or in both feet depending upon its cause.

What Causes Toe Numbness?

Your body contains a complex network of sensory nerves that provide your sense of touch. When the nerves are pressed, damaged, or irritated, it’s as if a telephone line has been cut and the messages can’t get through. The result is numbness, whether temporary or long-lasting. 

A number of medical conditions can cause toe numbness. These include:

  • alcoholism or chronic alcohol abuse
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • diabetes and diabetic neuropathy
  • frostbite
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • herniated disk
  • multiple sclerosis
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • peripheral vascular disease
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • sciatica
  • shingles
  • spinal cord injury
  • vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessels

Some people experience exercise-associated toe numbness, especially after engaging in high-impact exercises, such as running or playing a sport. This is because the nerves are frequently compressed while exercising. The numbness should subside fairly quickly after you stop exercising. 

Less commonly, numbness in toes can be a sign of a more serious neurological event. This is the case when you experience sudden numbness on one side of the body. This can be caused by:

  • seizure
  • stroke
  • transient ischemic attack (also known as TIAs)

When Should I Get Medical Help?

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience toe numbness along with any of these symptoms:

  • difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • facial drooping
  • inability to think or speak clearly
  • loss of balance
  • muscle weakness
  • toe numbness that occurs after recent head trauma
  • sudden loss of sensation or numbness on one side of your body
  • sudden, severe headache
  • tremors, jerking, or twitching movements

For toe numbness not associated with other symptoms, see your doctor when it becomes uncomfortable or doesn’t go away as it once did. You should also seek medical help if toe numbness starts to worsen.

How Is Toe Numbness Diagnosed?

Your doctor will first take an inventory of your medical history and symptoms before conducting a physical examination. If you’re experiencing stroke- or seizure-like symptoms, the doctor may recommend a CT or MRI scan. These can detect bleeding in the brain that could indicate a stroke.

MRI and CT scans are also used to detect abnormalities in the spine that could indicate sciatica or spinal stenosis.

Your doctor will perform a comprehensive foot exam if your symptoms seem to be concentrated on the feet themselves. This includes testing your abilities to sense temperature and other sensations in the feet.

Other tests include nerve conduction studies, which can detect how well electric current is transmitted through the nerves. Electromyography is another test that determines how muscles respond to electrical stimulation.

How Is Toe Numbness Treated?

Treatments for toe numbness depend upon its underlying cause. Your doctor will recommend medications and treatments to ensure your blood sugar stays at appropriate levels if diabetic neuropathy is the cause. Increasing your physical activity and paying careful attention to your diet can also help.

In addition to these steps, a doctor may prescribe pain-relieving medications. These can include:

  • antidepressants and anticonvulsants to treat diabetic nerve pain, including duloxetine and pregabalin
  • opioids or opioid-like medications, such as oxycodone or tramadol
  • tricyclic antidepressants, including amitriptyline

People with chronic foot numbness should undergo routine foot examinations to check for wounds and foot circulation. Patients with chronic foot numbness should practice excellent foot hygiene, including:

  • cutting toenails straight across or getting toenails cut at a podiatrist’s office
  • inspecting the feet daily for cuts or wounds using a handheld mirror to check the bottom of the feet
  • wearing soft, thick socks that support and cushion the feet
  • wearing well-fitting shoes that allow the toes to move

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: May 15, 2015: George Krucik, MD, MBA

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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