Today I’m going to talk about the various different causes of why you would get numbness in your toes. Many people experience these symptoms but are often at a loss as to why they occur. One common misperception is that numb toes is a result of poor circulation going into the foot or the leg, or even the toe itself. That’s simply not true. Numbness is a sign of disease of nerves and not necessarily disease of circulation going into the foot.
What causes numb toes and feet?
I’m going to go ahead and start talking about the various causes of numb toes, starting with some very specific locations of where you can experience that numbness and then expand that beyond to numbness that may involve the entire number of all the toes or the entire foot itself. To start off with, I’ll discuss what usually causes numbness when it’s just two toes that are next to each either, either on the bottom of those toes or even in the inner sides between those two toes.
The most likely causes of numbness in toes is often something called a neuroma. A neuroma is simply a pinched nerve on the underside of the foot in between the metatarsal bones, which are the larger bones that are going through the majority of the length of the middle part of the foot, ending at the base of the toes.
These metatarsal bones, there’s five of them of course corresponding with one with each toe, basically have a ligament that runs in between each of them. On the other side of that ligament runs a nerve that gives sensation to two different toes that sit next to each other. Due to various different mechanical reasons, sometimes that ligament can irritate the nerve that lies underneath it, and other things could also irritate that nerve as well, which can cause inflammation or swelling around the nerve. As that nerve tissue becomes swollen on its outer layer, it can become damaged. This can create the sensation of numbness in the toes and it could also cause a number of other different symptoms, including a burning sensation or the feeling like you’re walking on a hard pebble on the undersurface of the foot.
When the tops of the toes feel numb, there’s a different cause. Often this cause is due to irritation of one of the nerves that runs along the top of the foot. There’s a couple a run over the top of the middle part of the foot. The cause of this irritation is usually a spur that can form on the top of the middle part of the foot and some of the various different joints that form that surface. That spur can irritate the nerve and the tongue of the shoe can also irritate the nerve from the top as the nerve gets pressed in between the shoe and the bone underneath. That can give a sensation of numbness to the tops of the toes, which can be a little bit of a different sensation than when it’s on the bottom of the toes and caused by a neuroma.
3. Tarsal Tunnel
Now if the entirety of the bottom of the foot or just simply the bottom of multiple toes, more than just toe, are numb, sometimes the cause of that can be irritation to a nerve that runs on the inner side of the ankle. There’s a region in the ankle called the tarsal tunnel, which is kind of similar to the carpal tunnel in the wrist. There’s a large nerve that runs through this area. Due to a wide variety of different issues including fibrosis or constriction of the ligament that sits underneath this tunnel as well as other things, pressure can be placed on that nerve. That nerve can misfunction and the fibers can misfire, and you can end up with numbness, any of the pain, burning, and tingling and other symptoms that can be felt to various different parts of the bottom of the foot or simply the bottom of the toes as well, and more than one toe because there are branches that go to all five toes.
4. Sural Nerve
Now if the numbness is simply to the outer toes, to the fourth and fifth toes, or to the side of the foot, there could be a couple of other different causes. There is a nerve that runs along the outer part of the ankle called the sural nerve. That could become injured through a wide variety of different reasons, including sprains and other types of soft tissue injury that can cause physical damage to that nerve. The end result would be numbness to the side of the or to the fourth and fifth toes.
5. Common Peroneal Nerve
Now sometimes that damage is not just at that nerve level around the ankle but coming from further on up where basically the root of that nerve begins, which is something called a common peroneal nerve. The origin of that nerve structure is located on the outer side of the knee. Sometimes for various reasons that tissue can become irritated and that can create similar symptoms, but also sometimes that can create more problems with the outer side of the leg too as well, not just within the foot.
6. Back Issues
Now if you’re experiencing numbness over to the entirety of your foot or to the entirety of the toes, which can include the tops and the bottoms of the toes, then the problem may not actually lie in the foot itself. It may actually lie in the nerve structure that runs higher on up. Most often the reason for this is damage or irritation to the root nerves that come out of the actual spinal cord itself. Slipped discs, spinal arthritis, and lots of other different types of injuries can create this compression on the spinal nerve. That can create a lot of these symptoms.
7. Diabetes and other diseases
Now sometimes numbness in the toes has actually nothing to do with physical damage to nerve itself as much as it has to do with diseases that affect the way the nerve functions overall in the body. This is often the case when both feet are involved where all the toes of both feet are numb, or a wider variety of different areas feel numbness, including numbness in the foot, ankle, and going up the leg. There are a number of different conditions that can cause this problem. The most common one is diabetes, which can create a significant amount of nerve damage just because of the process of how diabetes occur, which is increased blood sugar that’s not being put into the body cells can create a whole host of different types of nerve damage chemically as well as physically because of problems with the way that the blood flow that goes to the nerves is affected in the diabetic process.
Other conditions which can create similar symptoms could include thyroid disease, problems with vitamin B deficiencies, folate deficiencies, past history of excessive alcohol consumption. There are also certain kinds of medications and cancer treatment courses that can also create very similar symptoms.
As you can see, there’s a lot of different causes for why people can develop numb toes. It’s not just one simple answer unfortunately. If you are experiencing this, it’s best to go see a foot specialist right away to at least rule out whether or not the problem is rooted within your foot itself, and to get proper treatment for that, or if it’s a more general cause like the other diseases I talked about just recently.