LEG NUMBNESS OR TINGLING

Numbness is decreased, and tingling unusual sensation in the leg. This article describes causes of numbness and tingling in the legs, feet or toes.

What Means Numbness and Tingling?
Numbness In the Arms, Hands and Fingers
Head/Face Numbness

EVERYDAY CAUSES OF LEG NUMBNESS

Sitting With Legs Crossed

Sitting with legs crossed, sitting on the foot, prolonged sitting or squatting, or a wallet in a back pocket may be the cause of a pressure on the leg nerves or arteries resulting in leg “falling asleep”:

  • Numbness, tingling or inability to move the leg or foot, resolving within few seconds or minutes after releasing the pressure and stretching the leg
  • In extreme situations, prolonged leg crossing or other forceful leg position could cause prolonged or even permanent damage of the peroneal nerve.

SCIATICA

Sciatica is a common name for lower back and leg pain, caused by any disorder involving sciatic nerve (listed below). Common symptoms are:

  • Pain in the lower back and/or buttocks
  • Pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the leg or foot, usually on one side, occasionally on both sides

Causes of sciatic pain:

Herniated Lumbar Disc

Bulging or herniated disc in the lumbar spine, mostly between 4th and 5th lumbar, or 5th lumbar and 1st sacral vertebra, can press on the roots of the sciatic nerve. A common cause is degenerative disc disease (DDD). A disc may herniate gradually or suddenly, often after lifting a heavy object from the ground. Symptoms include:

  • Pain, tingling or numbness in the lower back, buttock, thigh, calf or foot, usually only on one side
  • Worsening of symptoms during sitting, standing, sleeping and during certain movements, bending or lifting objects from the ground; symptoms may be relieved by walking or swimming
  • Cauda equina syndrome is typically caused by a large herniated lumbar disc that presses on the lumbar nerves. In the lumbar spine, the nerve roots and nerves are spread out like a ‘horse’s tail’ (in Latin cauda equina). Symptoms frequently appear on both sides: low back pain, bilateral lower extremity weakness, numbness around the anus and on the inner thighs (saddle anesthesia), bladder and bowel incontinence. These symptoms are a surgical emergency.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal canal. It can be genetic but is usually due to an age related overgrowth of vertebral bone that narrows the spinal canal. Symptoms are like in herniated lumbar disc (see above).

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis (Gk. spondylo = spine, listhesis = to slip or slide) refers to slippage (usually forward) of a vertebra and the spine above it. Disorder may be congenital, or caused by an age related degeneration, trauma or operative injury. Symptoms are like in herniated lumbar disc (see above).

Piriformis Syndrome

The piriformis muscle, which is located in the lower part of the spine, can have spasms and compress the sciatic nerve thus causing low back pain. More about piriformis syndrome.

Spinal Tumors and Infections

Tumors in the spine or spinal cord, and inflammation in infections, like spinal tuberculosis, can compress the sciatic nerve and cause sciatica and back pain.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, especially when lying down or walking, the womb can press on the sciatic nerve and can cause low back pain and tingling in one or both legs. Bulging or herniated disc is also a common cause. Symptoms usually go away after childbirth.

INJURIES

Leg Numbness After Surgery

Leg pain and numbness may appear after surgical fusion (merging) of the lumbar vertebra.

Broken Leg / Foot

Symptoms of a broken leg may include:

  • Pain, tenderness or cramps, made worse by movement
  • Leg or foot swelling
  • Leg deformity or grating of bone ends
  • Limited range of motion or inability to walk

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by a compression upon the posterior tibial nerve where it runs along the inner ankle. Causes include prolonged walking or wearing new shoes, injuries, swelling of tendons in rheumatoid arthritis, and so on. Symptoms include:

  • Foot pain, numbness, tingling or burning around the inner ankle or the sole of the foot, aggravated by standing or walking, and partially relieved by rest
  • Foot weakness

UNKNOWN CAUSES

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder of an uncertain cause, in which you experience an irresistible urge to move your legs. Symptoms include:

  • Creeping, tugging, itching or pulling sensation in legs, worsening at rest and partially or completely resolving by moving legs
  • Symptoms worsen at evening and may disrupt sleep

Transverse Myelitis

Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of the whole width of one segment of the spinal cord. The exact cause is not known. It can occur at any age, but mainly affects people between 2o and 40 years of age. Symptoms may include: 

  • Localized lower back pain
  • Burning, numbness, tingling or partial paralysis of both legs
  • Urinary bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Headache, fever, and loss of appetite 
  • Respiratory problems
  • Weakness in the arms

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis can cause numbness or tingling in one or both legs, arms and other body parts. Problems with vision, hearing, urinating, and tiredness are other common symptoms.  

HEREDITARY DISEASES

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is a rare hereditary disease of nerves causing weakness and decreased sensation in the legs (and sometimes in the arms). Symptoms include:

  • Loss of muscles and weakness in your legs and feet
  • High foot arches
  • Curled toes (hammertoes)
  • Numbness and pain in your legs and feet

Marfan Syndrome

Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder of the connective tissue; symptoms include long thin stature, joint hypermobility, leg pain and numbness around the knees.

DIAGNOSIS OF LEG NUMBNESS AND TINGLING

History. Pain, starting in the back and radiating to the leg, is mostly caused by a pressure on the roots of the sciatic nerve (radiculopathy), occurring in spinal disorders. Check a medical history questionnaire to recall more symptoms and circumstances.

Clinical examination. Special ambulatory tests, including detailed checking of sensitivity in the leg can reveal which nerves are involved.

Investigations. MRI of the spine shows most of spinal disorders. X-ray can show broken bones in the leg.

HOW TO TREAT LEG NUMBNESS AND TINGLING

The cause has to be treated in most cases.

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Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on November 7, 2012