Numbness in the feet is typically a temporary and harmless side effect of reduced circulation from sitting or pressing on the legs for a long time. However, some conditions can cause numbness that isn't so benign — in these cases, exercises for numb feet can help.
The Causes of Numb Feet
Numbness in your lower extremities can be caused by pressure on the nerves of the spine due to a low back injury, enlarged blood vessels, tumors, scar tissue or infection, as well as other conditions. Vitamin B deficiency, Raynaud phenomenon, certain medications and diabetes are also common causes of numbness, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
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If you experienced prolonged or frequent numbness in your feet, then you should check with your health care provider to figure out the cause. Your doctor may know if specific exercises can treat this condition.
If you have diabetes, then discuss options with your health care provider on better ways to control your blood sugar level. Similarly, if you are deficient in B vitamins, then your health care provider can help you come up with a plan to increase your levels. If certain medications are causing your numbness, do not change or stop taking your medicine, but discuss it with your doctor to see if there are other options for you.
Nerve injuries due to pressure, stretching or cutting of the nerve can interrupt the signals that your brain is sending to the affected area, resulting in a loss of sensation, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Similarly, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy causes numbness, muscle weakness and a loss of balance in affected patients. This numbness causes problems, including an increased risk of falls among people who have survived cancer or are currently undergoing treatments, according to a September 2012 article published in Oncology Nursing Forum. Fortunately, a well-designed exercise program can help.
Read more: Can Certain Foods Heal Nerve Damage?
Exercises for Peripheral Neuropathy in Feet
According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy (FPN), exercise has been shown in research to improve symptoms in people with peripheral neuropathy. Regular participation in exercise can reduce pain, as well as help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Activities such as aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility and balance exercises for peripheral neuropathy in the feet are all beneficial modalities for numbness.
The FPN recommends the following flexibility exercises for numb feet and legs. They recommend gently stretching for between five to 10 minutes to warm up your body and get ready for other activities such as walking.
These exercises can easily be done at home, but please check with your physician before embarking on any exercise programs. Perform each move for three repetitions on each leg twice-daily. Hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds on each leg.
Move 1: Calf Stretch
- Facing a wall for support, step one leg far behind you with your toe pointing slightly inward.
- Take a large step with your opposite foot toward the wall. Your front knee should maintain a slight bend — lean forward while pressing your back heel into the floor.
- Your calf muscle of the rear leg should feel a stretch. If you do not feel a stretch, you may need to step your rear leg further back.
Move 2: Seated Hamstring Stretch
- Sit near the front of a hard chair with one leg straight out in front of you and your toes pointing towards the ceiling. Keep a bend in the opposite knee so that your foot is flat on the floor.
- Lean your chest over your straightened leg while also straightening your back. You should feel a stretch in the back of your outstretched leg.
Move 3: Plantarfascia Stretch
- Stand inside a doorway and face the door frame, placing your heel as close to the door frame as you can.
- Lean forward slowly as your heel slides back and your toes point upward.
- Bend your front knee toward the door frame to further feel a muscle stretch in the bottom of your foot and through your heel cord.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Numbness and Tingling"
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: "Nerve Injuries"
- Oncology Nursing Forum: "Strength and Balance Training for Adults With Peripheral Neuropathy and High Risk of Fall: Current Evidence and Implications for Future Research"
- Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy: "Exercise + Physical Therapy For Neuropathy"