What Causes Numbness in Toes?

Why You Shouldn't Ignore Numb Toes

close up of walking sneaker on a trail

Verywell

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

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.

The most common cause of toe numbness is tight footwear.

Diabetes

Numbness in toes can also be a sign that you have an issue with blood sugar levels.

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:

If the artery becomes completely blocked, the tissue below the blockage eventually dies (gangrene).

Hypothyroidism

Sudden numbness in your arms, hands, legs, or feet (or toes) can also 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 damages the nerves, leading to numbness, even pain, in the affected area.

All sorts of problems can result from ignoring hypothyroidism, including mental health issues, fatigue, and weight gain.

Raynaud's Phenomenon

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

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. They form when your big toe points inward (towards your other toes), causing your big toe joint to jut out.

Because most shoes don't accommodate the resulting bump, they can put pressure on the misaligned joint. This eventually causes the bursa (a fluid-filled sac the surrounds the joint) to become inflamed and 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.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder that causes damage to the peripheral nerves. The nerve damage can cause muscle weakness, often to the point of paralysis. It can also cause problems with sensation, including pain, tingling, or a certain amount of numbness.

Most GBS cases start a few days or weeks after infections from viruses or bacteria, such as flu, Epstein Barr virus, and Zika virus.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

If you don't get enough vitamin B12, you may develop a type of anemia, called pernicious anemia. Your body needs vitamin B12 to make DNA and healthy red blood cells. This vitamin is also necessary to maintain a healthy, functioning nervous system.

When you have pernicious anemia, your body is unable to make enough healthy 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.

If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency can result in irreversible nerve damage. This damage can cause a wide range of symptoms, most notably tingling and numbness in the hands, legs, and feet.

A Word From Verywell

If you feel a 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.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schreiber AK, Nones CF, Reis RC, Chichorro JG, Cunha JM. Diabetic neuropathic pain: Physiopathology and treatment. World J Diabetes. 2015;6(3):432-444. doi:10.4239/wjd.v6.i3.432

  2. Callaghan BC, Price RS, Feldman EL. Distal symmetric polyneuropathy: A review. JAMA. 2015;314(20):2172-2181. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.13611

  3. Frykberg RG, Zgonis T, Armstrong DG, et al. Diabetic foot disorders. A clinical practice guideline (2006 revision). J Foot Ankle Surg. 2006;45(5 Suppl):S1-S66. doi:10.1016/S1067-2516(07)60001-5

  4. American Heart Association. Peripheral Artery Disease and Diabetes. Updated January 31, 2016.

  5. Gupta N, Arora M, Sharma R, Arora KS. Peripheral and central nervous system involvement in recently diagnosed cases of hypothyroidism: An electrophysiological study. Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2016;6(5):261-266. doi:10.4103/amhsr.amhsr_39_16

  6. Hypothyroidism (Underactive). American Thyroid Association. Published 2017.

  7. Ekabe CJ, Kehbila J, Abanda MH, Kadia BM, Sama C-B, Monekosso GL. Vitamin B12 deficiency neuropathy; a rare diagnosis in young adults: A case report. BMC Res Notes. 2017;10(1):72. doi:10.1186/s13104-017-2393-3

  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Anemia. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2012.

Additional Reading