Numbness of the Legs

November 12, 2012

Numbness of the Legs

Loss of sensation in one or both legs is known as leg numbness. The numbness may extend to your toes, and generally occurs due to lack of blood supply or nerve damage.

Causes

Infection, inflammation or injury of the legs can lower the blood supply, or damage the nerves of the limbs. This can lead to numbness, loss of sensation or pain in the legs. It differs from paralysis, which leads to loss of movement rather than a loss of sensation. Leg numbness is also associated with a prickling or burning sensation known as paresthesias.

Temporary leg numbness may occur after sitting with crossed legs for prolonged periods of time, or bicycling for a long time. It can occur suddenly or develop gradually. Chronic numbness, on the other hand, may indicate a wide variety of serious underlying diseases, disorders or conditions such as stroke or tumors, which may restrict blood flow or nerve damage. While numbness in one leg may indicate compressed nerve in lower spine, numbness in both the legs may indicate systemic disease such as multiple sclerosis or pernicious anemia.

Conditions that cause numbness by restricting the blood flow to legs include:

  • Tangled arteries and veins

  • Inflammation of arteries and veins

  • Deep vein thrombosis, which involves blood clots in the legs that can break loose from the leg causing a pulmonary embolism in the lung, heart attack or stroke.

  • Extremely cold temperatures

  • Clots in the blood vessels due to accumulation of cholesterol

Many conditions cause leg numbness by damaging the nerves of the legs. These include:

  • Back, neck or leg injury

  • Degenerative nervous system disorders

  • Herniated disks

  • Excessive nerve pressure from prolonged sitting

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Nerve damage associated with diabetes

  • Thyroid diseases

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Symptoms

Apart from loss of sensation in the legs, leg numbness may also be associated with other symptoms, which may indicate the presence of underlying diseases.

  • Leg numbness along with back pain may indicate nerve compression in the lower back.

  • Multiple sclerosis may manifest in form of numbness and extreme itchiness.

You should seek immediate medical help if your leg numbness is accompanied along with shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of coordination, loss of speech, fatigue and loss of vision. Other symptoms associated with leg numbness include anxiety, frequent urination, itching, muscle spasms and rash.

Treatment

Treatment of leg numbness depends on the underlying causes. You should talk to a doctor if your numbness lasts more than a few minutes.

Complications

Prolonged, untreated leg numbness may lead to serious complications including permanent disability, amputation, organ failure, paralysis, permanent loss of sensation and loss of movement.

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