What Causes Tingling in Feet—And When to See a Doctor
It's almost impossible to ignore any sensations occurring in the feet; after all, they're the base that holds everything up. One, in particular, that can happen relatively often (yet is still a bit unsettling) is tingling. It may come on its own or be accompanied by other symptoms and sensations, like numbness or pain.
There are many possible causes for the discomfort you're experiencing. "Tingling in the feet is a sensation or symptom that is described when there is the abnormal firing of the nerves in the body. Tingling can be felt in certain parts of the foot without affecting other parts depending on the condition involved," Nelya Lobkova, DPM, a podiatrist at StepUp Footcare tells Health.
With so many potential reasons for this sensation, it's critical to look at each option and determine how to target the root issue. Here are some of the common causes of tingling in the feet, as well as recommended treatments, plus information about when you may want to see a physician.
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What might be the cause of tingling in the feet?
Nerve root compression
Any disease involving the lumbar spinal nerve root, compressing or irritating it, can cause a person to have nerve root compression, reports Emory Healthcare.
How it's diagnosed: Nerve root compression can cause a person to have tingling in the ball of their foot. It can also bring a burning sensation or feelings of numbness in the toes, says Lobkova. According to Emory Healthcare, a doctor will use X-rays or an MRI to diagnose patients.
How nerve root compression is treated: A straightforward way to treat nerve root compression symptoms is switching to shoes with a wider toe box, according to Lobkova. This expansion relieves pressure on the nerve root. Use of toe spacers or metatarsal pads can also help to alleviate discomfort. In tandem, anti-inflammatory medication can ease the pain. According to Emory Healthcare, if none of the above helps, a podiatrist may suggest treatments such as epidural steroid injections and procedures like a lumbar spinal infusion or lumbar laminectomy.
Spinal cord compression
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, spinal cord compression is caused by any condition in which pressure is put on at least one part of a person's spinal cord, including the cervical and lumbar spines.
How it's diagnosed: Spinal cord compression can cause the entire bottom of the foot to tingle and is unlikely to happen in just one area of the foot, according to Lobkova. This is a key thing your provider will look out for. A spinal specialist can also make a diagnosis through an MRI or EMG.
How spinal cord compression is treated: Options for treatment include taking anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and surgical procedures that may widen the space between vertebrae, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which a nerve known as the posterior tibial compresses while traveling through the tarsal tunnel, reports Johns Hopkins Medicine. It is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome but affects the ankles and feet.
How it's diagnosed: Patrick McEneaney, DPM, a podiatrist at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, tells Health it can "cause numbness, burning, and tingling that goes down the side of the ankle into the bottom of the foot and the toes." According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it can be diagnosed through electrical testing or imaging such as a CT scan.
How tarsal tunnel syndrome is treated: An article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), explains that treatment may involve anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, orthotic shoes, or in some cases, surgery.
Raynaud's Phenomenon is a condition in which blood flow decreases to the fingers, toes, nipples, or other areas of the body. It occurs due to blood vessel spasms in the affected areas and usually first presents in people ages 15 to 25, says Johns Hopkins Medicine.
How it's diagnosed: Raynaud's Phenomenon makes the small capillaries in the toes contract due to stimuli like cold temperatures or stress. It can create tingling or numbness in the toes, according to Lobkova. A doctor will diagnose the condition by exposing your hands or feet to the cold and seeing if they change color.
How Raynaud's Phenomenon is treated: Lobkova explains that treatment initially involves warming the areas with socks and Epsom salt soaks. However, if the condition doesn't approve, a podiatrist will check for autoimmune diseases linked to Raynaud's Phenomenon, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves located outside the brain or the spine (otherwise known as "peripheral nerves") have damage, reports Mayo Clinic.
How it's diagnosed: Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy affecting the feet include tingling, numbness, burning, cramping, and the sensation of something crawling on the skin, says Lobkova.
McEneaney adds that people may get equal distribution of nerve damage in their feet or hands so both areas may feel the condition's effects.
Peripheral neuropathy has many causes, and in this case, the tingling you're experiencing may be a sign of undiagnosed diabetes. "If left untreated, tingling can then lead to numbness which may or may not be reversible, depending on the root cause," Jackie Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist and Vionic Innovation Lab member, tells Health.
How peripheral neuropathy is treated: "Treatment is geared at addressing the root cause of peripheral neuropathy. For instance, for people with diabetes, keeping the glucose levels in the blood low and under control will help to minimize tingling associated with peripheral neuropathy," explains Lobkova. A podiatrist can determine if an underlying condition exists. According to Mayo Clinic, treatment may include anti-inflammatory medication, laser therapy, and physical therapy.
When to see a doctor
The only tingling in feet that doesn't require a doctor's visit is that experienced when your feet occasionally "fall asleep" from compression or lack of movement. This sensation may occur after laying on your foot for a long period of time or wearing shoes that are too tight. However, either of these things also compress the nerves in the area, and if they create tingling, it's worth getting checked out if the sensation doesn't stop after some massage or movement or if it happens consistently, says Sutera.
In all other cases, it's important to see a doctor if you've experienced tingling in your feet for longer than a week. "If it's something that's going to go away, typically it'll go away quickly, but if it's been going on for more than a week, I think it's a good idea to see a doctor and get worked up to figure out what's actually going on," says McEneaney.
Lobkova recommends keeping a log of where, when, and how often you experience tingling in your feet to give the podiatrist. This record can help them make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
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