What Causes Numbness in Toes?

What do numb toes feel like?

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

Most people have experienced numbness in their arms or legs due to falling asleep on a crooked arm or holding an awkward position for too long. But toe numbness is less common and can, therefore, be a bit more worrisome.

Toe numbness feels different to different people. Additionally, the sensation can vary depending on what's causing it. When your toes are numb, you may experience a:

  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Tingling feeling
  • Inability to feel touch, heat, or cold

These sensations can make walking difficult or even painful. Here are some common reasons why you might experience numbness in your toes.

Tight Footwear

The most common cause of toe numbness is tight footwear. If your toes become numb after walking or running for extended periods, chances are it is because of your shoes.

Shoes that are too tight, too short, or too narrow at the toe can cut off circulation or put too much pressure on the nerves to the toes, which can lead to numbness. Lacing your shoes too tightly can also negatively affect your blood supply and cause toe numbness.

Diabetes

Numbness in toes can be a sign that you have an issue with blood sugar levels, especially if you are diabetic. High blood sugar, the hallmark of diabetes, can injure nerves throughout the body. This type of nerve damage, called diabetic neuropathy, is a complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The most common type of diabetic neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy (also known as distal polyneuropathy).

Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common long-term complications of diabetes. It affects more than 90% of people with diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves leading to your extremities, including your hands, arms, feet, and legs. The first nerves to be damaged by high blood sugar tend to be the ones furthest from the spinal cord, which includes those that stretch to the toes and feet. This nerve damage leads to the foot problems most often associated with diabetes, including numbness, tingling, and pain in your toes.

If left untreated, it can lead to foot ulcers and, potentially, amputation. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, foot ulcers lead to amputation 7% to 20% of the time.

Even people with diabetes who maintain good blood sugar levels can develop peripheral neuropathy.

Atherosclerosis

People with diabetes are also at higher risk for developing atherosclerosis, the most common cause of peripheral artery disease (PAD).

If you have PAD, plaque has built up inside the arteries leading to the arms, head, stomach, and legs. This limits blood flow, which can cause the following symptoms:

In severe cases, if the artery becomes completely blocked, the tissue below the blockage can eventually die (gangrene).

Hypothyroidism

Onset of numbness in the arms, hands, legs, feet or toes can be a sign of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland—a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck—can't make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body's needs.

Over time, producing too little of these hormones can lead to fluid buildup that puts pressure on the nerves in your legs. This can damage the nerves, leading to numbness and even pain in the affected area.

Many problems can result from undiagnosed hypothyroidism, including mental health issues, fatigue, and weight gain.

Raynaud's Syndrome

If your toes only seem to get numb when you're cold, anxious, or stressed, you might be experiencing Raynaud's syndrome.

Raynaud's is a blood vessel condition that limits blood flow to the outer parts of your body (usually the fingers and toes) in response to cold temperatures. It can also be triggered by emotional stress.

When you're in a cold environment, your body cuts circulation to your extremities—like your nose, ears, fingers, and toes—in an attempt to increase blood flow to more vital organs like your heart, lungs, and brain. If you have Raynaud's, this reaction is exaggerated.

Many people complain of having cold hands and feet, but unless your skin typically turns white or blue in response to temperature dips, it's not Raynaud's.

With Raynaud's, the blood vessels in your extremities narrow, completely shutting down blood flow to those areas. In addition to numbness, this syndrome also causes the affected area (in this case, your toes) to change color, from white to blue to red. In severe cases, your feet may develop sores and infections, which can potentially lead to gangrene (the death of tissue caused by inadequate blood flow or infection).

If you suspect you may be suffering from Raynaud's, it is important to schedule an appointment with your doctor to prevent long-term damage.

Bunions

Bunions are knobby protrusions at the base of your big toe. When they form, your big toe points inward (towards your other toes) and the base of your big toe joint appears to jut out.

Because most shoes don't accommodate the resulting bump, they can put pressure on the misaligned joint. This can eventually cause the area to become inflamed and in some cases can compress nearby nerves. The result? Pain, tingling, and numbness.

Morton Neuroma

A Morton's neuroma is a non-cancerous thickening of tissue around the nerves in the ball of the foot. It usually occurs between the third and fourth toes but can also occur between the second and third toes.

If you have Morton's neuroma, it may feel like there is a pebble or marble under the ball of your foot. Eventually, you may feel a sharp, burning pain in the foot and numbness between the third and fourth toes.

The majority of people who develop Morton's neuromas are women, probably as a result of wearing high-heeled, narrow-toed shoes.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is important for maintaining a healthy, functioning nervous system. If you don't get enough of this vitamin, you may develop tingling and numbness in the hands, legs, and feet. If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency can result in irreversible nerve damage.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can also lead to a type of anemia called pernicious anemia. Your body needs vitamin B12 to make healthy red blood cells. When you have pernicious anemia, your body is unable to make enough red blood cells. This can lead to tiredness, light-headedness, and shortness of breath.

It can take years for your body to run out of vitamin B12 and for signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia to appear.

A Word From Verywell

If you feel persistent burning in your toes or feet, or if there is any sort of numbness, try not to brush it off. It may seem like a small annoyance, but your body is telling you something and it can be significant. The sooner you can get the condition diagnosed, the better it is for your treatment plan.

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Article Sources
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