Causes of Tingling in the Feet

Tingling in the feet is a common symptom that can affect many people, causing pain, burning, or a pins-and-needle sensation. Symptoms may resolve when you change positions and move, which relieves pressure on your nerves.

When tingling in the feet persists and is unrelated to positional changes, other conditions may be causing nerve inflammation and irritation can result in tingling in the feet.

This article will describe symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of both common and unusual causes of tingling in the feet, and when to see a healthcare provider.

young woman holding painful foot

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Chronic Conditions

There are some chronic conditions, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypothyrodism (underactive thyroid), autoimmune diseases, and infections, that may cause tingling in the feet.

Diabetes and Diabetic Neuropathy

About 60%–70% of people with diabetes suffer from diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the extremities caused by chronically high blood sugar levels). It results in numbness, tingling, burning, and pain most often in the feet and hands. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the peripheral nervous system from increased blood glucose levels that cause diabetes.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is diagnosed via blood work and physical examination. and treatment includes managing blood glucose levels through diet, exercise, and medication, including insulin.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system that results in widespread muscle weakness and sensory disturbances when the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, the protective layer that surrounds the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. This nerve damage can cause weakness, numbness, tingling, and nerve pain, most often affecting one side of the body at a time.

A combination of a physical examination, blood tests, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and nerve conduction studies can be used by a neurologist to diagnose MS. Treatment for MS primarily includes medications, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and corticosteroids, to slow disease progression and manage symptoms.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or decreased levels of thyroid hormones, can cause peripheral neuropathy if left untreated. Symptoms include pain, burning, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet.

Hypothyroidism is diagnosed through blood work and commonly treated with synthetic thyroid hormones.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is an inflammatory condition that damages the arteries that supply the extremities, particularly the legs and feet, from atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque within blood vessel walls. When the arteries of the legs and feet become damaged, the resulting decreased blood flow damages nerves, which can produce symptoms like pain, cramping, numbness, tingling, darkened skin, and delayed wound healing.

Peripheral artery disease can be diagnosed through physical examination, ankle brachial index readings (the systolic blood pressure at the ankle divided by the same measurement at the arm), diagnostic ultrasound, and angiograms (showing blood flow through the vessels) to examine the integrity of your blood vessels.

It is best treated through stopping smoking, increasing exercise, and medications to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and likelihood of blood clotting. In cases of severe damage to the arteries, surgery to repair or replace the damaged blood vessels may be needed.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome results when the posterior tibial nerve located within the tarsal tunnel, a narrow passageway located on the inside of the ankle, becomes compressed. Compression of the posterior tibial nerve can be caused by flat feet, varicose veins, swollen tendons, cysts, bone spurs, or inflammatory conditions like diabetes or arthritis.

Symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome In the feet are similar to those of carpal tunnel syndrome in the hands. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling, burning, and electrical sensations traveling from the ankle into the feet. Tarsal tunnel syndrome is diagnosed via physical examination and nerve conduction studies, and is treated through physical therapy, rest, ice, supportive footwear, braces, orthotics, and cortisone injections.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is a nerve disorder that causes muscle weakness and atrophy (wasting away) as well as loss of sensation, pain, and tingling, most commonly in the legs and feet but the hands and arms are occasionally affected. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is a genetic disorder caused by a gene mutation that damages the myelin, the protective layer surrounding a nerve.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is diagnosed through physical examination, nerve conduction studies, electromyography,  and genetic testing. While there is no cure, symptoms can be managed through physical and occupational therapy, medication to manage pain, and protective bracing or splinting.

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure, which results from chronic kidney disease, often causes neuropathy as a common neurological complication. Approximately 90% of patients in kidney failure requiring dialysis develop symptoms of neuropathy, which include pain, loss of sensation, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the feet.

Kidney failure and chronic kidney disease are diagnosed through blood work, urine tests, ultrasound, and kidney tissue biopsy (surgically removing tissue for examination in a lab). Treatment is aimed at slowing disease progression with medication, treating underlying causes like high blood pressure and cholesterol, kidney dialysis, and kidney transplant surgery.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases result when the body produces an immune system response against its own healthy cells, causing widespread inflammation. Multiple autoimmune conditions can cause nerve damage and resulting pain, numbness, and tingling in the feet, often from peripheral neuropathy. 

Celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity, often results in pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet in addition to gastrointestinal distress. This can result in Raynaud's disease, which can cause numbness, paleness, pain, and tingling of the fingers and toes in response to cold temperatures.

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune connective tissue disorder that affects the exocrine glands, or glands that produce sweat, tears, saliva, and more substances. This can result in peripheral neuropathy, causing pain, numbness, and tingling of the feet.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also cause pain and tingling in the feet. This results from the immune system attacking the joints and causing swelling and inflammation of nearby nerves.

Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own nerves. It starts in the lower extremities (usually the feet) and can progress to the rest of the body, causing pain, tingling, and weakness. This can progress rapidly and be life-threatening so it's important to seek medical attention immediately.

Consult your healthcare provider for treatment options. Autoimmune conditions are typically treated through maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, and using medication, such as DMARDs and biologics

Infections

Viral infections can attack nerve cells, causing damage that results in pain and tingling in the hands and feet. Some infections include:

Infections are diagnosed through physical examination and blood work and require time and possibly antiviral or antibiotic medication for recovery.

Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcoholic Neuropathy

Alcoholic neuropathy can result from prolonged alcohol use. Like peripheral neuropathy, alcoholic neuropathy causes nerve damage, pain, numbness, and tingling in affected areas of the body, which commonly includes the feet. 

Diagnosis of alcoholic neuropathy is most often made from a physical examination and medical history, including duration, quantity, and frequency of alcohol use, blood work, and nerve conduction studies. Symptoms typically improve with cessation of alcohol use and medication.

Other Causes

Tingling feet can result from other conditions, including pregnancy, stroke, a pinched nerve, and medication.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can often result in swelling, numbness, and tingling in the feet due to the increased pressure that a developing fetus places on the nerves of the lower lumbar spine, which can lead to sciatic nerve compression. A diagnosis is typically made through physical examination and treatment is aimed at reducing nerve compression through physical therapy.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when there is decreased blood flow to the brain, resulting in brain and nerve damage, often affecting one side of the body. This often causes weakness, changes in muscle tone, pain, numbness, and tingling, often in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. 

A stroke diagnosis is made through a physical examination and MRI or a CT (computed tomography) scan of the brain. Treatment includes emergency medicine and surgery if necessary, followed by restoring function through physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Medication is also used to help manage symptoms like nerve pain. tingling, and altered muscle tone.

Vitamin Deficiency

Certain nutritional deficiencies can damage the peripheral nervous system. Deficiencies of vitamins B1, B6, B12, E, and copper have been specifically linked to peripheral neuropathy, which can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the feet. Vitamin deficiencies are diagnosed through blood work and can be treated through dietary changes and supplements.

Medications

Certain medications, especially chemotherapy drugs, can cause peripheral neuropathy and associated pain, numbness, and tingling in the feet as negative side effects. Symptoms can be managed by changing medication type or dosing, if possible. Other times peripheral neuropathy can last for several months after treatment is finished until the damaged nerves have healed.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve (radiculopathy) either from the low back, thigh, or leg can cause pain, numbness, and tingling due to nerve compression or irritation. A diagnosis is typically determined by a physical examination and MRI, and treatment can vary from conservative measures like rest, stretching, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication to more involved procedures like cortisone injections and surgery.

Toxin Exposure

Exposure to heavy metals like lead, thallium, and mercury can cause peripheral neuropathy and associated symptoms of pain, numbness, and tingling in the feet. A medical history and blood work can be used to help determine a diagnosis, and treatment is aimed at removing toxin exposure and managing lasting symptoms with medication.

Hyperventilation/Anxiety

Hyperventilation, or increased breathing rate often resulting from anxiety, can rapidly lead to a decrease in carbon dioxide levels of the blood, which can cause tingling in the hands and feet. A diagnosis is determined through a physical examination and medical history. Treatment can include psychotherapy, meditation, breathing techniques, and medication. 

Idiopathic Causes

Sometimes tingling in the hands and feet can result from an idiopathic (unknown) cause. A physical examination and tests like blood work, nerve conduction studies, and MRIs may be performed to rule out other conditions. In the absence of any other disorder, tingling in the feet can be managed through pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medication. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if you have been experiencing tingling in your feet that:

  • Causes significant pain
  • Limits your ability to walk and maintain your balance
  • Causes a decrease in sensation in your feet
  • Gets worse over time
  • Doesn’t go away

Tingling in your feet is a sign of nerve irritation and/or damage, and should be addressed by a healthcare provider to treat the underlying cause, if possible, or provide treatment options to help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Tingling in the feet or other parts of the body that comes on suddenly and is not relieved by changing positions or moving can be a sign of a medical emergency.

Summary 

Certain conditions can cause nerve inflammation and irritation that results in tingling in the feet, such as nerve compression, infections, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders, certain medications, and more. Treatment for tingling in the feet starts with treating the underlying cause to reduce inflammation and nerve irritation, typically through physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medication.

A Word from Verywell

Regular exercise, adequate sleep, proper diet, and good hydration can help decrease widespread inflammation throughout the body to help decrease symptoms. Your healthcare provider will determine the appropriate diagnosis of where the tingling in your feet is coming from to create a treatment plan that's right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I worry about tingling feet?

    You should worry about tingling in your feet if it:

    • Comes on suddenly and doesn’t go away with positional changes or movement
    • Has been ongoing and has gotten worse over time
    • Produces significant pain and loss of sensation
    • Interferes with your daily functions
  • Does multiple sclerosis (MS) tingling come and go?

    Tingling from MS can come and go, especially during periods of acute flare-ups, when symptoms are exacerbated (worsened) This can occur during times of increased stress, hot temperatures, and fatigue. The symptoms may come and go over a few days, weeks, or sometimes months.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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