Why Are My Toes Numb?

Numbness in your toes is one of those nagging ailments that's hard to pin down. It could be something serious -- a byproduct of diabetes, for example -- or it might just be that you're wearing the wrong shoes.

Most numbness in your toes is harmless. But seek emergency help if:

  • You've had a recent head injury that is followed by numb toes
  • The numbness begins suddenly
  • It spreads rapidly
  • You have weakness
  • It’s hard to think
  • Talking is difficult
  • You have a severe headache
  • You’re dizzy

Here are a few of the things that may cause your toes to go numb:

Diabetes

High sugar and fats in your blood from diabetes can damage nerves, something doctors often call diabetic neuropathy. When it affects your feet and legs (or arms and hands), it's called peripheral neuropathy. As many as half the people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy.

If diabetes is causing your toes to go numb, you might see other signs of the disease, including:

Diabetes is serious, and if numbness in the toes and other foot problems related to the disease go unrecognized or untreated, it could lead to major complications, which could include an amputation. Have your doctor check your blood sugar level to see if diabetes might be the cause of the numbness in your toes.

Morton's Neuroma

A Morton's neuroma is a thickening of the tissue around a nerve that leads to the toes. The pressure on that nerve can cause pain in the ball of your foot and numbness in your toes. Activity or certain types of shoes can make it worse.

A doctor can diagnose a Morton's neuroma. The treatments involve a change in footwear (high heels and tight shoes are problems), shoe inserts and, if needed, corticosteroid shots to ease the pain.

Metatarsalgia

Metatarsalgia (named for the metatarsals, the long bones in your foot between your arch and your toes) may begin with pain in the ball of your foot, but it can come with numbness or tingling in your toes.

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We don’t know all the causes of metatarsalgia, but they may include the shape of your foot (high arches, bunions, or curled toes can cause it) and simple overwork. Distance runners are at risk of metatarsalgia. Being overweight may also help lead to it.

Metatarsalgia may not need medical attention. A change of shoes, shoe inserts, rest, and ice may help. But if those things don't do the trick, and the pain and numbness in your toes last more than a few days, it may be time to call your doctor.

Raynaud's Phenomenon

Cold weather or stress can slow the blood flow to the extremities in some people with Raynaud's phenomenon. Toes can become numb and even change colors: red, white, or blue.

There are two types; primary and secondary. Primary happens by itself -- the cause is unknown -- and is generally harmless. But secondary Raynaud's is linked to diseases that affect your autoimmune system, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

If it's secondary Raynaud's, you may have symptoms of a rheumatic disease or arthritis that could include:

  • Pain in a joint like the fingers, toes, ankles, or knees
  • Redness in a joint
  • Warmth in a joint

Your doctor can diagnose Raynaud's and tell if other diseases could be associated with it. Most treatments for Raynaud's itself (meaning, not any conditions linked to it) usually don't include medications, but in severe cases, doctors may prescribe some.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

An immune system disorder -- in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves -- Guillain-Barre syndrome damages the covering around your nerves, which can cause numbness in your toes.

If Guillain-Barre is making your toes numb, you might also have:

  • Weakness in your legs that spreads to your upper body
  • A hard time making facial movements, or moving your eyes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • A hard time breathing
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Pain that becomes worse at night

Guillain-Barre is a rare disease, but it's serious. It can spread rapidly. You should get emergency help for:

  • Any tingling or numbness in the toes that spreads up the body
  • Weakness of any part of your body that's spreading rapidly
  • Trouble breathing while lying down

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More Causes

Other medical issues that can cause your toes to go numb include:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 01, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetic Neuropathy," "Peripheral Neuropathy."

American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Symptoms," "Foot Complications," "Diagnosing Diabetes and Learning About Prediabetes."

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo: "Morton's Neuroma."

Merriam-Webster: "Metatarsal."

Mayo Clinic: "Metatarsalgia," "Guillain-Barre Syndrome," "Numbness."

Cleveland Clinic: "Metatarsalgia."

American College of Rheumatology: "Raynaud's Phenomenon."

Arthritis Foundation: "Raynaud's Phenomenon."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: "Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases."

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