While your feet have the super important job of helping you get around on a regular basis, you probably don’t notice much about them unless you’re using them or looking right at them. But when you have tingling in your feet, it’s hard to think about anything else.
Tingling feet isn’t a medical term, but doctors definitely know what it means. It can present itself in a number of ways, says Melissa Lockwood, DPM, a podiatrist at Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates in Bloomington, Illinois. “It can feel like your foot fell asleep and you’re trying to wake it up, or it can feel like your foot is completely numb,” she adds. “It can sometimes be quite painful and burning.”
It can really vary from person to person. “I get some patients who describe it as pins and needles, while others say it feels like a buzzing or burning sensation,” says Ilan Danan, MD, a sports neurologist and pain management specialist at the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, California.
If you have tingling in your feet and it went away, it’s probably just one of those things. But, if your symptoms aren’t going away, they go away and come back, or you have certain health conditions like diabetes and you’re having tingling in your feet, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to get checked out, says Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, MD, a professor and the chairman of neurology at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Tingling in your feet doesn’t necessarily mean you have a medical condition—it can sometimes happen from something as simple as sitting on your foot in a weird way, Dr. Danan says. But a few conditions can lead to tingling in your feet. Keep these on your radar.
Meet the experts: Melissa Lockwood, DPM, is a podiatrist with more than 15 years of experience. She received several awards, including the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine Mildred Kaufman Memorial Award for Proficiency in Orthopedics and Biomechanics.
Ilan Danan, MD, is a sports neurologist and interventional pain management physician. He is an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Academy of Neurology and American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine.
Diabetes happens when your blood glucose (blood sugar) is too high. It impacts an estimated 30.3 million people in U.S., according to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
“High blood sugar can damage nerve fibers but also affect the small blood vessels that supply nutrients to the peripheral nerves,” Dr. Dhib-Jalbut explains. (BTW, peripheral nerves are the ones outside your brain and spinal cord.) This can make it difficult for your nerve fibers to conduct signals, leading to a tingly feeling.
Other symptoms, according to the NIDDK, can include:
- increased thirst and urination
- increased hunger
- blurred vision
- numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- sores that do not heal
- unexplained weight loss
If it’s caught early enough and your blood sugar is brought under control, you may be able to fix the tingling feeling. But, if you let it go on for too long, Dr. Danan says it’s possible to develop permanent nerve damage.
2. Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). When someone has MS, their body’s immune system targets the protective sheath covering the nerves called myelin. That can lead to a range of symptoms, including tingling, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
“When the myelin sheath isn’t working or present in a way that it’s supposed to be, it can cause tingling,” Dr. Lockwood says. MS can’t be cured, but getting on proper treatment like biologic medications may help control the symptoms.
Hypothyroidism is a common condition where your thyroid doesn’t create and release enough thyroid hormones into your bloodstream, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This can make your metabolism slow down and lead to symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and trouble tolerating cold temperatures.
The tingling feeling in your feet due to hypothyroidism is “likely caused by tissue swelling that puts pressure on the nerve fibers,” Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says. Hypothyroidism is usually treated by taking a medication called levothyroxine, which increases the amount of thyroid hormone your body produces, per the Cleveland Clinic.
4. Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is basically like carpal tunnel syndrome but for your feet, Dr. Lockwood says. The condition is caused by compression of the posterior tibial nerve (which is found in your foot) and can cause symptoms like pain, tingling, or numbness in your foot, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Treatment involves taking anti-inflammatory medications or getting steroid injections into the tarsal tunnel to relieve pressure and swelling. In more severe cases, surgery may be needed.
5. Kidney Failure
Kidney failure means that most of your kidney function is gone, according to the Mayo Clinic. At this point, your kidneys are unable to filter out waste products from your blood and your blood’s chemical makeup may get out of balance.
Symptoms—other than tingling in your feet—can include less peeing than usual, fluid retention, shortness of breath, and weakness, the Mayo Clinic says. Chronic kidney failure “can damage nerve fibers,” leading to feet tingling, Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says. Treatment usually involves IV fluids, medication to control potassium in your blood, and dialysis to remove toxins from your blood.
6. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where a person’s immune system attacks their joints by mistake. That can cause symptoms like joint pain and swelling. About 1.3 million people in the U.S. have RA, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
Rheumatoid arthritis can “cause inflammation around nerve tissue,” causing nerves to become compressed, Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says. Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Lupus is a chronic disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. About 1.5 million Americans are affected by the disease, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. It most commonly impacts the skin, joints, and internal organs, and it can cause a slew of different symptoms.
The reason for tingling in the feet with lupus is similar to rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says. Lupus is treated with a range of medications, including corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and immunosuppressive medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (the same one that leads to chickenpox), according to the CDC. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays inactive in your body—but it can reactivate later, causing shingles.
Shingles is a painful rash that happens on one side of your body and can lead to pain, itching, or tingling in the area. “It’s an attack on the nerves,” Dr. Danan says, pointing out that you can even have a lingering tingling or burning feeling in your feet after you recover. Shingles is treated with antiviral medications like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir.
9. Alcoholic Neuropathy
Alcoholic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that happens from too much drinking. That can cause tingling or numbness in the hands, arms, legs, and feet. “The mechanism is not well understood but it could involve the direct toxic effect of alcohol on nerve fibers,” Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says.
“Typically, these symptoms are not reversible,” Dr. Lockwood says. “Once you develop this, you’re at your new baseline.”
10. Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) is a group of rare disorders that cause damage to the peripheral nerves. People with CMT usually develop progressive muscle weakness and may have smaller, weaker muscles, per the Mayo Clinic. That can lead to loss of sensation, muscle contractions, and trouble walking.
CMT “affects the structure and function of peripheral nerves,” leading to symptoms like nerve tingling, Dr. Dhib-Jalbut says. There is no cure for CMT, but patients may get relief with medications to help with nerve pain, along with using orthopedic devices for walking.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives by the beach, and hopes to own a teacup pig and taco truck one day.