What Causes Numb Feet?

R. Britton

There are a vast array of conditions which can cause numb feet. Some are temporary and harmless while others can be severe and life threatening. Numbness can occur in one or both feet simultaneously. They can be temporary with an obvious trigger, such as poor seating posture, or long lasting with a more obscure cause such as a psychological or physical condition, inflammation of the nerve, or a spinal injury.

Poor posture may cause numb feet.
Poor posture may cause numb feet.

The most common cause of temporarily numb feet is poor circulation or limited blood supply caused by a restrictive seating position. A cross legged posture or sitting with one or both legs tucked under the body can inhibit the blood flow or put pressure on a nerve which results in a loss of sensation in one or both feet. While uncomfortable for a short time, this temporary numbness and the accompanying pins and needles are harmless and will quickly dissipate once the legs are moved into a proper position and the blood flow is restored.

An unhealthy lifestyle can cause damage to the circulatory system.
An unhealthy lifestyle can cause damage to the circulatory system.

Conditions such as anxiety and panic disorders which cause hyperventilation can also bring about numbness in hands and feet. Hyperventilation is very rapid breathing which dramatically increases oxygen intake. The hemoglobin in the bloodstream struggle to absorb the high levels of oxygen which results in less available oxygenated blood. This often leads to loss of sensation in the patient’s extremities, particularly in the hands and feet, as the body attempts to preserve oxygen for more vital functions. Once proper breathing and oxygenation levels return, feeling quickly returns to the affected areas.

Chronic poor circulation is a major cause of numb feet and hands. Age, poor lifestyle, lack of exercise, smoking, unhealthy diet, and a variety of injuries and diseases can cause bad circulation. In these instances, the body struggles to circulate enough oxygenated blood, particularly to the extremities. Nerve cells are then deprived of oxygen and are unable to supply adequate signal responses which results in a loss of sensation.

Nerve damage either from injury or medical conditions is known to be a leading cause of numb feet. In the foot, an irritated or trapped nerve can cause lack of sensation, particularly over a long period, and is commonly a result of tarsal tunnel syndrome. Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, this condition involves inflammation within the tarsal tunnel. Nerves, ligaments, and tendons run through the tarsal tunnel which is very small with very little room. If any of these structures become inflamed or suffer damage, the nerve can become trapped against the sides of the tunnel and the source of the inflammation. This disrupts the ability of the nerve to send and receive signals and results in numbness, pain, and restricted movement.

Numbness and tingling in the feet after an injury can be an early indication of potentially severe damage to the spine or spinal cord. In these circumstances, medical intervention should be requested immediately to prevent further damage. There are also many other conditions of which numb feet can be a symptom. If a patient suffers from this sensation and there is no obvious cause, medical advice should be sought promptly.

Sitting for an extended period of time with crossed legs can cause the feet to become numb.
Sitting for an extended period of time with crossed legs can cause the feet to become numb.

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Discussion Comments


@serenesurface-- Have you seen a doctor? A doctor can give you the most accurate answer.

It sounds like you have poor circulation in your feet. An unhealthy lifestyle can definitely cause it or aggravate it. Do you have any other underlying condition? Diabetes, for example, can cause poor circulation. Smoking causes poor circulation a well.

You ought to try and change your bad habits. Because nerve damage can do more than just cause numbness in the feet. It keeps wounds from healing and can prevent infections from getting noticed in time. These can lead to serious complications.


I have cold and numb feet, especially in the winter. Could it be because of my lifestyle? I'm not overweight but I don't exercise and I can't say that I eat a very balanced diet either.


I've experienced numb feet and legs due to hyperventilation during an anxiety attack. There have also been times when my face, arms and hands have become numb. It's a very scary feeling.

When my feet and legs became numb due to hyperventilation, I actually fell down because I couldn't feel anything. It seemed like my legs and feet were out of control. Thankfully, my friend was with me and helped me calm down. Like the article said, as soon as my breathing slowed down, feeling started returning to my limbs.

I thought that this was due to lack of oxygen. But I didn't know that it's because too much oxygen is breathed in. It makes complete sense now.

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