Why Are My Toes Numb? Leading Causes and What You Can Do

7 min read

There are two main reasons for numb toes. The first is poor blood circulation. The second is compressed or damaged nerves.

In both scenarios, the underlying cause varies greatly. Weak circulation or compressed nerves can be caused by tight socks. They can also be early-onset symptoms of a stroke.

Hi! My name is Dr. Karim Maghreby. I’m a medical doctor and physician scientist. I spent hours researching and writing this post for you.

Our other team doctor – Dr. Enes – contributed during editing. The article covers numb toe causes and remedies. It also gives you signs you need immediate medical attention – and home remedy ideas.

Now let’s look at the 15 most common reasons for a numb toe.

Disclaimer: This guide was created for educational purposes. It neither offers nor replaces medical advice. Learn more here.

Table of Contents

1

Loss of Circulation

Loss of circulation can cause numbness and tingling. It can make your toes change color. If your feet or lower legs ever “fell asleep”, you know what loss of circulation feels like.

Loss of circulation can happen for a number of reasons. Points 2 through 5 will go over the main ones.

2

Venous Insufficiency and Varicose Veins

In a healthy body, veins shuttle blood to and from the legs and feet. If your veins are weak or damaged, i.e. you have venous insufficiency, this doesn’t happen properly. Numb feet and toes emerge as a common symptom.

Varicose veins caused by high blood pressure are a common reason for venous insufficiency. Other causes include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and blood clots.

3

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

In individuals with DVT, blood vessels are blocked by clots. This prevents oxygen from getting to the toes and feet, causing numbness.

4

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

PAD patients have the opposite problem to varicose vein sufferers. Peripheral artery disease constricts the arteries, making them too narrow for a healthy blood flow. This deprives the feet and toes of oxygen, causing numbness and tingling.

5

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is when fat, calcium and other substances start building up on artery walls. Like PAD, this can leave feet and toes without oxygen.

Atherosclerosis tends to build up gradually. At first you get occasional numbness. If the condition isn’t managed, it can cause life-threatening strokes.

6

Frostbite

At low temperatures, our blood vessels contract and restrict blood flow through the body. The feet, toes, fingers and hands are affected first. This is how frostbite causes to toe and foot numbness.

Frostbite is especially dangerous if you have nerve damage or poor circulation. If your nerves aren’t healthy, you may not realize how cold your body is. If you have poor circulation, frostbite will set in faster because your arteries aren’t working properly to begin with.

Raynaud’s disease suffers can get frostbite-like symptoms at mild temperatures. Many doctors believe peripheral neuropathy plays a part in this.

7

Nerve Compression or Damage

There are 2 ways compressed or damaged nerves can make our toes numb.

  1. If the peripheral nerves in our toes and feet are compressed or damaged, we can no longer feel those bodyparts properly.
  2. If our central nerves are compressed or damaged, our brain may not be able to process sensation properly.

In both cases, nerve function is compromised. In some cases, this is easy to fix – e.g. by removing tight socks. In others, nerve damage is permanent and can only be managed; not fixed.

We’ll go over some of the main reasons for compressed or damaged nerves in our next few points.

8

Neuroma

Neuroma is a growth (i.e. tumor) of nerve tissue. Most cases are benign, meaning they’re non-cancerous. The condition can cause both nerve pain and numbness.

In my experience, doctors can misdiagnose inflammations and other injuries as neuromas. This appears to be most common with Morton’s neuroma.

9

Bone Structure Damage

Let’s say a joint or bone is damaged. This includes bone growths, e.g. heel spurs and benign bone tumors. It also includes compressed or herniated disks.

Conditions like these can easily cause a nerve entrapment, where two bones compress and restrict a pinched nerve. This can cause both pain and numbness, depending on the severity of the problem.

10

Bone Spurs Caused by Stiff Joints

Stiff or limited joints in our feet and toes can develop bony spurs. This is common with joints affected by osteoarthritis, especially in older patients. When this happens, a pinched nerve can cause foot and toe numbness.

In some cases, bone spurs can be dissolved with physical therapy, nutrition and exercise. In others, they become a permanent condition.

11

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome (TNS)

The tarsal tunnel is the space behind the ankle, between the tendons and bones. It contains soft tissue and important nerves, including the tibial nerve.

Patients with tibial nerve entrapment, i.e. a pinched or damaged tibial nerve, usually feel foot pain. They may also feel numbness, e.g. if there is serious nerve damage. The effect is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome’s effect on the hands.

12

Diabetes

Diabetes patients often have low sensitivity in their hands and feet. This is because high levels of fat and sugar in the blood damage the peripheral nerves.

This causes what’s known as peripheral neuropathy. This is when the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord become damaged or diseased. When this happens, they can no longer carry signals to and from the brain properly.

Diabetic-specific neuropathy is often called diabetic neuropathy. It often starts with occasional numbness but can turn into complete loss of sensation.

13

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases like lupus make your immune system attack its own healthy cells. When autoimmune diseases damage foot and toe nerves, numbness is a common symptom.

14

Systemic Diseases and Conditions

A number of conditions – cancer, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, strokes, neuropathies – can all cause systemic damage to the whole body. This can result in nerve damage.

Some conditions are more likely to damage the nerves than others. Multiple Sclerosis sufferers often get numb toes. Cancer patients often don’t.

15

Nutrition and Dietary Habits

Alcoholism, B12 deficiency and Lyme disease can all cause nerve damage. So can lead poisoning. This way, eating too much or too little of something over a long period of time can result in numb feet and toes.

FAQs

Why do I get numb toes after running?

The most common reason is compressed soft tissue.

When you run, your feet swell up from the exercise. They also splay out against the ground, lengthening and widening. If the shoe isn’t wide enough, this will compress your feet and toes.

This can constrict your blood vessels and reduce blood flow. It can also pinch or constrict a nerve. In both cases, numbness is likely.

Note: numb toes after running aren’t always benign. They can absolutely be caused by a serious foot problem that needs medical help. Talk to your GP to get an accurate diagnosis.

Also, make sure you choose suitable footwear for running. This way, you can effectively reduce the chances of numb toes.

Do I need immediate help for my numb toes?

I cannot offer you medical advice on this page; this is for informational purposes only.

Still, here are some signs which mean you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • A headache, dizziness or fainting
  • Difficulty of breathing
  • Difficulty walking; balance problems
  • Numbness that’s sudden and/or spreads rapidly
  • Confusion; inability to think straight, answer questions or remember obvious facts
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Impaired vision, e.g. blurred vision or blindness, even if momentary
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Slurred speech, facial muscle drooping
  • Toe numbness occurring after a recent injury, especially of the head or back

How to get rid of toe numbness?

You shouldn’t treat numb toes at home without knowing their underlying cause. But if you know the underlying cause and your GP said you’re free to alleviate these symptoms, the following tips may help.

(Again… Nothing on this page is medical advice. Be responsible and only use these tips if your doctor approves.)

  • Make sure your socks and shoes aren’t too tight. This will help with pain caused by nerve compression.
  • Eat a healthy diet; minimize smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Take a B6 or B12 supplement.
  • Cut your toenails and wear soft, thick socks to cushion your feet against compression.
  • Avoid cold exposure.
  • If you have Raynaud’s disease, keep extra warm. This will help you avoid Raynaud’s phenomenon.

In Conclusion

Numb toes are caused by poor blood circulation and compressed or damaged nerves. The underlying cause of each can vary. Besides toe numbness, you can also experience uncomfortable foot cramps, especially if you choose the wrong footwear.

It can be as benign as a tight running shoe that compresses the big toe. It could also point to a stroke that’s about to happen.

We hope you found this article helpful!

References

  1. (Lloyd III. 2020; Lloyd III. and Hanes 2020; Morrison and Nall 2019; Ratini 2019)
  2. Lloyd III., William C. 2020. “Toe Numbness.” Healthgrades.
    https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/symptoms-and-conditions/toe-numbness.
  3. Lloyd III., William C., and Elizabeth Hanes. 2020. “Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.” Healthgrades.
    https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/foot-health/tarsal-tunnel-syndrome.
  4. Morrison, William, and Rachel Nall. 2019. “Toe Numbness: Possible Causes and How to Treat
    It.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/toe-numbness.
  5. Ratini, Melinda. 2019. “Why Are My Toes Numb.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-
    guides/numbness-toes.

More Articles

Last Updated:

April 30, 2022

DR. KARIM MAGHRABY

Dr. Maghraby is a medical doctor and published physician scientist. He’s an avid runner and a user of sports compression gear.