The Quick Answers:
Tingling feet—the “pins and needles” sensation also known as paresthesia—is a very common symptom that can be mild or severe, temporary or chronic. Often tingling feet are caused by pressure on the nerves, which in turn can be caused by crossing your legs or sitting on your foot for too long. This kind of tingling goes away soon after the pressure is relieved.
However, tingling feet can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition such as peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) or diabetes. An estimated 20 million Americans have some type of peripheral neuropathy (there are over 100 different types) and suffer from tingling feet. If the tingling feeling is temporary, and you know the cause, you shouldn’t be as concerned with seeking medical attention as you should with prevention. But if the tingling feeling is affecting you daily, and you’re not doing anything to cause it (such as crossing your legs for long periods), you should consider seeing a podiatrist in case there is an underlying condition such as a systemic disease.
Tingling Feet Symptoms
Besides the pins-and-needles effect, there are other symptoms that can sometimes accompany tingling feet, including::
- Muscle spasms
- Vision changes
- Difficulty walking
- Confusion or loss of consciousness
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Tingling Feet Causes
The severity and duration of tingling feet will vary depending on the cause. Common causes of tingling feet include:
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Nerve dysfunction, such as a pinched nerve
- Nerve entrapment
- Poor blood circulation
- Medication (tingling could be a side effect)
- Systemic diseases, such as hypothyroidism or multiple sclerosis
- Trauma or injury to a nerve, such as with a broken foot
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Hormone imbalance
- Toxic exposure ranging from heavy metals to radiation therapy
- Infection, such as AIDS or shingles
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Stroke or seizures
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Ruptured disc in spine
The nerves in our bodies need Vitamins E, B1, B6, B12, and niacin to function correctly. But too much of any one of these vitamins can cause tingling, while insufficient vitamin intake can lead to conditions such as peripheral neuropathy. You and your doctor should talk about your dietary habits to help you understand the importance of getting the right amount of daily vitamins in order to prevent issues such as tingling feet.
Peripheral neuropathy, which is a common cause of tingling feet, can sometimes be caused by diabetes. In fact, 30 percent of all cases of peripheral neuropathy are because of diabetes. It’s estimated that two thirds of diabetics have some form of nerve damage. Symptoms such as the ones listed above, coupled with tingling feet, may be the first sign of diabetes.
When to See Your Doctor
Tingling feet should never be ignored, as they may be a sign of a more serious problem. Identifying conditions such as peripheral neuropathy and poor blood circulation in their early stages could mean the difference between a simple visit to a doctor or an extensive treatment plan. If you are experiencing dizziness, confusion, weakness, or paralysis in association with your tingling feet, do not attempt to drive. If no one is around to take you to a hospital when this occurs, call 911 immediately.
Diagnosing Tingling Feet
Tingling feet are not as easily diagnosed as other problems due to the variety of possible causes. Your podiatrist will give you a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history, family medical history, social activities, dietary habits, risk of infectious diseases, and toxic exposure. To rule out certain disorders, conditions, and diseases, your doctor may wish to conduct blood tests, a nerve biopsy, thyroid function tests, measurement of vitamin levels, a spinal tap, an electromyogram (which tests your muscle activity levels), and CT scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) to figure out what is causing the tingling feet.
Tingling Feet Treatment
Treatment of tingling feet will be based on the underlying cause. For example, if you are low on vitamins, a vitamin supplement may be recommended. If the problem is being caused by a certain medication, you may need to adjust your dosage or change the prescription. If you have diabetes, you may need to better control your blood-sugar levels. If the pins and needles only appear when you sit in your favorite position, you may need to find a new way to sit. A proper diagnosis by your podiatrist can prevent the tingling feet from returning.
Talking to Your Doctor
Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor if you are experiencing tingling feet:
- What exercises can I do at home to relieve tingling feet?
- I perform __________________ exercises already; could this have led to my problem?
- Is there a dietician or nutritionist available at this clinic?
- If the tingling returns, how long should I wait before coming back?
- Are there any other symptoms I should watch for in the future?