There are twenty or so potential causes of tingling feet, and those twenty are just some of the more common causes. A systemic disease, for example, is one of those causes, but there are many systemic diseases, several of which can cause a pins and needles or tingling in one’s feet.
Your feet may tingle if the shoes you’re wearing are too tight or if you sit with your legs crossed for too long of a time, in which case only the foot belonging to the top leg is apt to feel strange. In cases such as these where pressure is definitely involved, the tingling sensation will go away soon after that pressure has been relieved. The tingling sensation was in this case temporary and the reason behind it is known, so there is little cause for alarm.
Pressure of a different kind can cause a tingling sensation that may be more severe and longer lasting. This is when pressure is placed on a nerve because it has become entrapped between other tissues in the body. A number of nerves in your body run through so-called tunnels, the carpal tunnel in the wrist being perhaps the most familiar example. If a constant pressure is being placed on the carpal nerve, a tingling sensation, or even pain, can occur in the hands. Insofar as the feet are concerned, the somewhat lesser familiar tarsal tunnel syndrome, where it is the tarsal nerve that is being pressured, is often the reason for the tingling you may feel in your toes or feet.
Your nervous system is quite complex and the symptoms likely to occur if a nerve is damaged or irritated are not always predictable nor are the places in your body where the symptoms are most likely to be experienced. Included in the list of potential causes of these tingling sensations in one’s feet, or elsewhere, are such diverse things as alcoholism, hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiency, side effects from a medication, diabetes, migraine, and exposure to a toxic substance or to radiation. There are more, but in most cases, a nerve is undergoing some form of mistreatment. Vitamins play an interesting role in this area. A deficiency of several vitamins can cause your feet to tingle, while an excess of certain vitamins can lead to a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, which in turn can cause your feet to tingle. Peripheral neuropathy is one of the leading causes of this particular sensation and will be addressed in greater detail. Another of the more common causes of tingling in the feet or legs is pregnancy, and the third major cause is anxiety.
The Three Major Causes of Tingling Feet
These three major causes, pregnancy, peripheral neuropathy, and anxiety, form the basis for discussion in this article. Pregnancy is addressed first since the reason for the tingling sensation is more or less straightforward. The other two causes require going into somewhat more detail to understand what is happening in your legs and/or feet and why.
1) Pregnancy and Tingling Feet
The third trimester of pregnancy can be challenging enough with backaches, weight gain (not all of which belongs to the baby), false contractions, swelling, heartburn, and a few other uncomfortable or unpleasant happenings. To complete the picture, tingling in the legs or feet can be added, although not all women experience this particular sensation. While tingling could be a result of poor circulation, which can sometimes be a cause for concern, it more often than not is due to the growing baby making more and more room for itself. While poor circulation is indeed involved in this case, it is only a temporary situation as whether or not these tingling sensations are felt depends on the position of the mother or that of the baby. Tingling in the lower extremities is more likely to be experienced if the baby is being carried slightly lower than usual since more pressure may have been placed on the blood vessels feeding the legs and feet, temporarily slowing or cutting off circulation. While the tingling can be irritating and may occur with increasing frequency during this final stage of pregnancy, it usually goes away with changes in the body’s position. In any event, experiencing this tingling is actually rather common during pregnancy and is in most instances no cause for concern.
2) Peripheral Neuropathy and Tingling Feet
Your nervous system could be thought of as consisting of two main parts. The first part consists of your brain and your spinal cord, which together make up the central nervous system. The second part, the peripheral nervous system, fans out from the spinal cord and transmits information to and from every other part of your body. When something is amiss in some area of the peripheral system, the information being transmitted can become distorted or cut off altogether. There are a large number of peripheral nerves, so there are a great number of different things you might experience if one or more of these nerves become irritated or damaged. Each of these nerves has a highly specialized function. Depending upon which nerve is affected, you could feel pain, tingling, or numbness in your leg, your foot, or only in your big toe.
A disorder to one or more of the peripheral nerves is referred to as neuropathy. Some neuropathies are of little consequence, while others can result in major damage; for example, if the nerves that help you to swallow food or service organs that are involved in regulating your blood pressure are damaged, the consequences could be quite severe or even life threatening. There are over 100 different types of peripheral neuropathy that have been diagnosed, and each type has characteristics or symptoms that are somewhat different from the next. Some neuropathies only cause certain sensations, such as tingling or numbness, to be felt. Others can over time cause bone degeneration or muscle loss if not treated. When numbness, tingling, or other sensations are felt, it is usually because one of the larger sensory nerves is being irritated or has been damaged.
Unlike during pregnancy in which tingling in the feet may be felt because the peripheral nervous system senses that the blood supply to the feet is being interrupted, neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves themselves are at the root of the problem. The tingling sensation you feel may not necessarily be due to a lack of blood circulation but due instead to a problem within the nervous system itself.
Trauma as a Cause – The most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is trauma. If you hit your knee, your lower leg and foot may go numb or you may feel a tingling sensation in your foot, regardless of whether there has been any actual damage to a nerve or not. If there has been, the numbness or tingling, or pain for that matter, may not subside or may only do so slowly. A broken bone in the leg, the ankle, or the foot can cause a tingling sensation in the foot as can a dislocation in the knee or the ankle joint.
Hormonal Imbalances and Alcoholism – The list of causes mentioned earlier includes a number of things that can cause peripheral neuropathy. Hormonal imbalances, for example, can interfere with metabolism, resulting in swollen tissues caused by fluid retention, which in turn places pressure on peripheral nerves. Alcoholism can cause peripheral neuropathy in that alcoholism often causes a deficiency in thiamine, which in turn can lead to nerve damage.
Inflammation, Vascular Diseases, and Toxins – Any disease or disorder that causes the tissues that surround peripheral nerves to become inflamed can affect the nerves, especially if the inflammation spreads to the nerve fibers themselves. Inflammation can also cause joints to swell, making the nerves more susceptible to compression injuries. Some vascular diseases can cause serious damage to peripheral nerves or even cause nerve fiber tissue to die if the blood supply is cut off. Other causes of damage are as varied as compression due to repetitive stress and the presence of toxins. The latter cause is often the case if the kidneys have become damaged or diseased, allowing higher concentrations of toxins to make their way into the bloodstream.
Infection – An infections or autoimmune disorder might be responsible for the tingling sensation you feel in your feet. Infections can be either bacterial or viral. Bacterial infections that affect the nerves are more likely to cause pain than to cause tingling sensations however. On the other hand, the effects of HIV on the peripheral nervous system are often first experienced as tingling or numbness in the extremities.
Genetics – Finally, some peripheral neuropathies are inherited. While a few of these genetically caused neuropathic disorders can be serious, the majority of them tend to be mild and usually do not result in any impairment to the person experiencing them. The fact that most inherited neuropathies are mild in their symptoms is fortunate in that there presently are no treatments that can cure them, although the symptoms can often be controlled.
Treating neuropathies that are caused by a systemic disease can become quite complicated since if tingling in the feet is one of the symptoms, it is highly unlikely to be the only symptom, which can make locating the source of the problem a complex process.
Further information on peripheral neuropathies, their causes, symptoms, and treatment can be provided by the Brain Resources and Information Network of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
3) Anxiety and Tingling Feet
You may find it rather difficult to understand why there should be a connection between tingling feet and anxiety. That’s understandable since tingling is not a symptom of the mental disturbance or disorder itself, but is instead one of the symptoms of anxiety. Tingling is not all that common when experiencing feelings of anxiety. It is in fact rather uncommon. It would be extremely unusual if your feet start to tingle every time you happen to feel anxious about something.
The Effects of Hyperventilation – What actually can happen is that if your anxiety is pronounced, which is to say somewhat severe, you may have a tendency to hyperventilate. Hyperventilation can become a vicious cycle. When you hyperventilate, you take in more oxygen than your body has an immediate need for. You also expel an excessive amount of carbon dioxide. That might seem like a good thing, but it’s not. Your brain tells you that you require even more oxygen, which results in your breathing in even more deeply, inhaling more oxygen and expelling more carbon dioxide. While less may seem better when it comes to the levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, such is not the case. The levels of carbon dioxide in the blood have to be within a certain range or problems will occur. Ironically, these problems relate to the various parts in your body not getting enough oxygen. When that is the case, your feet, as well as your hands, may tingle since it is the extremities where this lack of oxygen tends to be most pronounced.
Oversensitivity as a Contributor – Anxiety is a complicated subject in itself, not to mention the physical problems it can sometimes cause. When you are extremely anxious about something, you tend to become overly sensitive to both mental and physical changes. Another kind of vicious cycle can then set in. The mild tingling in your feet caused by hyperventilation can become magnified in your mind. The tingling has suddenly become a big problem to you, causing you to become even more anxious and perhaps hyperventilate even more. Even if you don’t continue to hyperventilate, you may begin to worry that the tingling you’re experiencing is a symptom of some dread disease.
A Deficiency in Magnesium Is Not Helpful – Yet another vicious cycle can come into play. Feelings of anxiety, especially when they are intense, consume energy because of the stress that is experienced. Nutrients in your body are burned away, leaving you with a deficiency. One of the reasons that magnesium supplements are often prescribed for those having chronic anxiety attacks is that those attacks deplete the body of magnesium, which happens to be responsible for the functioning of a few hundred important processes in the body. In short, if you have frequent anxiety attacks, not only may your feet tingle, but also you may become oversensitive to the sensation and you may also lose valuable nutrients, which will make your body more likely to experience the same symptoms during future attacks.
Anxiety-caused symptoms, or in this case symptoms caused by symptoms, can be difficult to deal with as it’s the underlying cause, the anxiety, that has to be treated. At least if during an anxiety attack your feet begin to tingle, you may have some peace of mind in knowing that it is the anxiety that is at the root of the problem and not anything life-threatening.
Like most unusual sensations, if tingling feet are something you rarely and only temporarily experience, there is likely nothing to worry about. If trauma is the issue, you may at least have some idea of the cause and recognize that the tingling is only a symptom. If you experience the sensation while pregnant, you should be comfortable in the knowledge that giving birth will act as a cure. If the sensation is particularly severe or seems to be chronic, there may be something that is going on that a doctor needs to look into – an approach you should consider for almost any symptom that is chronic or is worsening over time. If anxiety is the cause, trying not to be concerned may be the best treatment.