What causes toe numbness?

Toe numbness usually arises from a lack of blood supply to the toes or nerve damage. Toe numbness can be a sign of a wide variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves. Temporary toe numbness can occur after prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves such as after wearing tight-fitting shoes.

Toe numbness can occur with moderate to serious orthopedic and circulatory conditions, as well as disorders and diseases that damage the nervous system. Numbness in only one toe may indicate a neuroma (noncancerous growth of nerve tissue) or broken toe, whereas general toe numbness may be a sign of a more systemic disease such as diabetes.

In some cases, numbness is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.

Circulatory causes of toe numbness

Toe numbness can be caused by lack of blood flow to an area due to such conditions as:

  • Arteriovenous malformation (tangled knot of arteries and veins)

  • Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)

  • Deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the leg that can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, a heart attack, or even stroke)

  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of the arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

Orthopedic causes of toe numbness

Toe numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves including:

  • Back injury

  • Broken toe

  • Degenerative disk disease

  • Herniated disk

  • Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure (such as from tight-fitting shoes)

  • Osteoporosis

  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Neurological causes of toe numbness

Toe numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:

  • Alcoholism

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)

  • Neuroma in the toe

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency (as in pernicious anemia)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of toe numbness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your toe numbness including:

  • Where are you feeling numb and what toes are affected?

  • Is any part of your foot numb?

  • When did the numbness start?

  • How long does the numbness last?

  • Are there any activities that cause the numbness?

  • Are you experiencing other sensations, such as pain, burning or itchiness?

What are the potential complications of toe numbness?

Any complications associated with toe numbness can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because toe numbness can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider to reduce your risk of potential complications related to toe numbness, such as:

  • Amputation

  • Disability

  • Inability to walk

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Permanent pain

References:

  1. Numbness and tingling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003206.htm.
  2. Herniated disc. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Herniated%20Disc.aspx
INTRODUCTION

What is toe numbness?

Toe numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in the toes. Toe numbness is usually due to a lack of blood supply to the toes or nerve damage. Toe numbness can also result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other abnormal processes. Most cases of toe numbness are not due to life-threatening disorders.

... Read more about toe numbnessintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with toe numbness?

Toe numbness may occur with other symptoms as well. For example, toe numbness due to a broken toe will most likely be accompanied by severe pain and swelling. Nerve compression in the lumbar spine (lower back) will usually affect only one leg, with pain and numbness that may extend down to the toes.

Symptoms that may occur along with toe numbness

Toe numbness may occur ... Read more about toe numbnesssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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