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What Causes Numbness in Toes?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several causes of numbness in toes, including poor circulation, nerve damage, and cold. Solving poor circulation can be as simple as having better posture or taking a break from work to walk around. It can also be as complicated as treating a disease, like diabetes, that makes having good blood circulation difficult. Numbness in the toes is more commonly caused by cold air or water, which can be solved by moving some place warmer or moving faster while stretching the toes. In addition, numbness of the digits can also be caused by nerve damage due to a disease or injury.

Wearing inadequate footwear outdoors when it is cold, especially when it is raining or snowing, can result in numb toes. Eventually, the toes might feel tingly and painful to move. The numbness, tingling sensations, and pain should diminish rapidly once the person is somewhere warm and his or her shoes are not wet. In extreme cold, frostbite can occur and result in the temporary or permanent loss of use in the affected digit. There are several degrees of frostbite, with the least dangerous only damaging the skin and the most dangerous freezing and damaging the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.

Another potential cause of numbness in toes is poor circulation, which can be caused by a plethora of things. For example, sitting in a desk chair with crossed legs usually leads to limited circulation to the toes, especially if the toes are tucked under the thighs or buttocks. In cases like this, simply having better posture and stretching frequently can prevent numbness in toes, calves, and knees. More serious causes of poor circulation are diseases like diabetes that directly or indirectly cause or contribute to poor circulation by affecting blood vessels.

Nerve damage, either due to a disease or injury, is yet another potential cause of numbness in toes. Diabetes, frostbite, and autoimmune diseases are just some conditions that might result in nerve damage of the toes, fingers, or other extremities. Nerve damage can be minor or severe, essentially meaning that there can be some or complete loss of feeling. Even with minor nerve damage, the affected person must usually take care in ensuring he or she does not step on sharp objects or do anything that might cause injury to the toe. There is a possibility the wound will go unnoticed because of the absence of pain, sometimes leading to infection and amputation.

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Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Feb 14, 2013

Did you guys know that poisoning and exposure to chemicals can lead to numbness in feet and toes?

I didn't know that this was possible until my friend was hospitalized. He was experiencing numbness in his limbs, nausea and headaches. He was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning!

By fBoyle — On Feb 13, 2013

@alisha-- It can be but poor circulation is diagnosed by a doctor, so you can't tell on your own. Doctors have to check color of feet and toes, the pulse of the feet as well as symptoms like numbness to determine circulation problems.

If you don't have any chronic conditions like heart problems or diabetes, I doubt it has to do with circulation. Your shoes might not be as suitable to cold and snow as you think. You need to buy shoes with multiple insulation layers and wear wool socks.

I once made the mistake of wearing high heels in snow. The snow got into my shoes and literally froze my toes. My toes first became numb and then they started to hurt as though they were injured. It was horrible. Thankfully, I had an extra pair of shoes at work that I could switch into. The numbness and pain went away when my feet warmed up.

By discographer — On Feb 13, 2013

Is numbness in feet and toes in cold weather, despite wearing protective shoes, a sign of poor circulation?

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