Long-term numbness or a tingling feeling in the legs and feet may be due to conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, peripheral artery disease, or fibromyalgia. The sensation may be felt in the whole leg, below the knee, or in different areas of the foot.
In this article, we look at some of the reasons why a person might experience numbness in the legs and feet, along with symptoms and treatments.
Causes of numbness in legs and feet
Crossing the legs for a long time may cause numbness and tingling in the legs and feet.
Often, a person’s legs go numb temporarily because of their posture. However, chronic or long-lasting numbness in the feet and legs is almost always a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Conditions associated with feet and leg numbness include:
Postural habits that put pressure on nerves or reduce blood flow in the lower limbs are the most common cause of temporary numbness in the legs and feet. Many people say their leg has “fallen asleep,” and the medical term is transient (temporary) paresthesia.
Habits that can cause the feet and legs to fall asleep include:
- crossing the legs for too long
- sitting or kneeling for long periods
- sitting on the feet
- wearing pants, socks, or shoes that are too tight
Injuries to the torso, spine, hips, legs, ankles, and feet can put pressure on nerves and cause the feet and legs to go numb.
Some people with diabetes develop a type of nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the feet, and if severe, the legs as well.
Lower back issues and sciatica
Problems in the lower back, such as a breakdown or herniation of spinal discs, can cause compression of the nerves going to the legs, leading to numbness or sensory disturbances.
Sciatica is the name for irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the legs. If this nerve becomes irritated or compressed, a person may experience numbness or tingling in their legs or feet.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve that runs down the back of the leg and along the inside of the ankle and into the foot is compressed, squeezed, or damaged.
The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space on the inside of the ankle. People with tarsal tunnel syndrome tend to feel numbness, burning, tingling, and shooting pain in their ankles, heels, and feet.
Peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) causes the peripheral blood arteries in the legs, arms, and stomach to narrow, reducing the amount of blood they can pump and reducing blood flow. The legs are one of the most common parts of the body impacted by PAD.
Most people with PAD experience pain and cramping in their legs and hips when they are walking or going upstairs. Some people with PAD also experience leg numbness and weakness.
Symptoms of PAD typically go away after a few minutes of rest.
Tumors or other abnormal growths
Tumors, cysts, abscesses, and benign (non-cancerous) growths can put pressure on the brain, spinal cord, or any part of the legs and feet. This pressure can restrict blood flow to the legs and feet, causing numbness.
The toxins in alcohol can cause nerve damage that is associated with numbness, especially in the feet.
Chronic or excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to nerve damage that causes numbness. This type of nerve damage is linked to reduced levels of B vitamins, such as B1 (thiamine), B9 (folate), and B12, which is caused by excessive alcohol intake.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic or long-lasting condition that causes widespread body pain, aching, and tenderness. Some people with fibromyalgia also experience numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
Most people with fibromyalgia experience a variety of symptoms including:
- stiffness and soreness for no apparent reason, especially in the morning or after sleeping
- chronic exhaustion
- memory problems and difficulty thinking clearly, sometimes called fibro-fog
- restless leg syndrome
Almost everyone with fibromyalgia experiences symptoms in more than one part of their body for at least 3 months at a time. If numbness in the legs and feet is not accompanied by any other symptoms or is not long-term, it is unlikely to be caused by fibromyalgia.
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience sensory nerve damage that can cause numbness in a small region of their body or whole limbs. Although numbness associated with MS often only lasts for a short period, it can last long enough to become disabling.
Stokes and mini-strokes
Strokes or mini-strokes can cause brain damage that may affect how the mind interprets and processes nerve signals. A stroke or mini-stroke can sometimes cause temporary or long-term numbness in parts of the body.
Numbness in the legs and feet may be accompanied by tingling or itching sensations.
Numbness is just one of the many symptoms associated with temporary and chronic numbness.
Many people with numbness in their legs and feet experience additional symptoms at the same time or intermittingly, such as:
- a crawling feeling under the skin
The proper treatment for numb legs and feet depends entirely on the cause.
Medical options for long-term numbness in the legs and feet include:
- Antidepressants. Some antidepressants, such as duloxetine and milnacipran, have been approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
- Corticosteroids. Some corticosteroids can help reduce chronic inflammation and numbness associated with conditions such as MS.
- Gabapentin and pregabalin. Medications that block or change nerve signaling may help reduce numbness associated with conditions such as fibromyalgia, MS, and diabetic neuropathy.