Numbness or tingling — or a tingling sensation — in your leg is very common when you sit in the same position for a long time. This reduces blood flow or puts too much pressure on the nerves and usually goes away after you move around.
long-lasting or unexplained numbness or tingling, called feeling abnormal, may be a sign of vitamin deficiency or toxicity, or a side effect of medication, alcohol, or injury. In some cases, it can be a symptom of a serious problem, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or stroke. The treatment you receive will depend on the cause of the feeling.
This article discusses what causes numbness or tingling in the legs, other symptoms that may accompany it, and how to diagnose and treat paresthesias.
If you experience tingling and numbness in your legs, you may have other symptoms, including:
- pain in the affected leg
- back pain that may or may not shoot down the leg
- burning sensation in the legs
- Creeping sensation under the skin
- muscle spasms
- touch sensitivity
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Weakness in the affected leg
There are many potential causes of leg numbness and tingling. Sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time can temporarily cause this feeling due to a pinched nerve or insufficient blood flow. This feeling usually goes away once you move.
Numbness and tingling in the legs can also be symptoms of a variety of health conditions that can cause nerve damage or restrict blood flow. Potential reasons for this feeling include:
- Abnormal levels of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, calcium, potassium, and sodium
- Frostbite (frozen injury to the skin and subcutaneous tissue)
- insect bites
- medicines, such as chemotherapy
- Radiation Therapy
- Shingles (a painful rash caused by the chickenpox virus)
- toxins in seafood
Injuries sometimes produce numbness or a tingling sensation, such as:
- back injury
- broken leg
- A herniated disc (a bulge, slipped, or ruptured area between the bones of the spine)
- Nerve damage to the cervical spine (neck) due to trauma such as a car accident or fall
- pinching or compressing a nerve
Other causes usually fall under the category of nerve damage or disease.
Some chronic health conditions can cause numbness and tingling in the legs as symptoms. Conditions that can cause this feeling include:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Diabetes (diseases involving how your body handles blood sugar)
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Migraines (severe, recurring headaches)
- Multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)
- Peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves outside the brain and spinal cord)
- Raynaud’s phenomenon (a condition that causes reduced blood flow to the fingers)
- Seizures (sudden electrical disturbances in the brain)
- stroke (interruption or reduction of blood flow to the brain)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (an autoimmune disease that causes extensive inflammation and tissue damage)
- Transverse myelitis (a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the spinal cord)
Everyone experiences numbness or tingling in their legs from time to time. You may feel it when you sit in one position for a long time, and it feels better when you move around. However, in some cases, leg numbness and tingling can be a sign of serious illness. If your leg numbness and tingling persist or come back frequently, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
When you meet with your healthcare provider, you will be asked about your symptoms and medical history, and you will undergo a physical examination. Share all of your symptoms, even if they don’t seem to be related to how you feel in your legs. Be sure to mention any recent injuries, vaccinations, or medications and supplements you’re currently taking.
Your healthcare provider may order additional tests to provide a diagnosis. This may include blood tests, nerve conduction studies, lumbar puncture (spinal tap, taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the lower back), thyroid function tests, toxicology screening and vitamin level testing,
You can also have imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
There are many causes of leg numbness and tingling, and your treatment will depend on the cause of your symptoms. If your symptoms are caused by a chronic health condition, treatment will focus on reducing symptoms and slowing disease activity. If your symptoms are caused by an acute (severe and flare-up) condition or injury, treatment will focus on healing and recovery.
How do you know if you need physical therapy?
When to seek medical help
In some cases, numbness and tingling in the legs may indicate a serious medical condition or injury. Discuss numbness and tingling with your healthcare provider if:
- It lasts a long time or happens frequently.
- It is accompanied by other symptoms.
- It is accompanied by changes in leg color, shape or temperature.
- There is no apparent reason.
- You feel dizzy, have a rash, or have muscle cramps.
Call 911 in these situations
Seek immediate medical attention if you have or are experiencing any of the following:
- back, head, or neck injury
- inability to move or walk
- loss of bladder and/or bowel control
- feeling of confusion
- loss of consciousness
- slurred speech
- vision problems
Numbness or tingling in the legs can be caused by a variety of causes, including sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time, nerve damage or disease, or chronic health conditions such as multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia (chronic, extensive pain).
Consult your healthcare provider if your leg numbness or tingling persists or occurs frequently. They will give you a physical examination and may order tests to determine the cause. Some causes of calf numbness can be managed with simple treatment, while others require ongoing treatment and medical attention.
What causes numbness and tingling?
A combination of leg numbness and tingling is common and usually easy to treat. When it becomes chronic or disrupts your quality of life, it can be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment. If you experience numbness or tingling along with other symptoms, or if the condition becomes painful or frequent, consult your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you see a neurologist about leg numbness?
There are many causes of numbness or tingling in the legs, some as simple as sitting which can compress nerves or cut off blood circulation in the legs. If you experience persistent or frequent numbness or tingling, or come on suddenly, it may be time to see a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain and nervous system.
Can an MRI show nerve damage?
Magnetic resonance imaging provides images of soft tissue structures in the body. Although MRI cannot show nerve damage, it can help identify structural changes or abnormalities in the body that may be causing nerve compression, such as a herniated disc. Diagnosis of nerve damage is usually based on the results of neurological examinations.
Can heart problems cause leg numbness?
Numbness and tingling in the legs can be a sign of peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD occurs when the peripheral arteries that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body narrow. Edema (swelling) in the legs can be a symptom of heart disease.