Why Is My Big Toe Numb?
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If your big toe is numb or if you’re having on-again, off-again episodes of numbness, consider this a warning sign of something bigger — like a pinched or irritated nerve in your low back.
Big toe numbness can also be caused by things like poor circulation or even a pinched nerve between the toes themselves, but it’s more commonly due to a nerve, specifically the L5 spinal nerve in the lower back as this is the nerve that branches all the way from the spine down to the big toe (1).
But wouldn’t my back hurt if I had a pinched nerve in my low back?
The numbness in the big toe could be that first early-warning sign, and if it isn’t addressed back pain or stiffness might develop. On the other hand, you could have a pinched nerve in your low back and not experience back pain or other back symptoms.
Causes of a Pinched or Irritated L5 Spinal Nerve
There are a number of things. A bulging or herniated disc. An injury to the back. Even inflammation from arthritis pressing on the nerve. Any of these conditions can cause the foramen, the tunnel that travels out of the spinal column and houses the spinal nerve, to narrow. This narrowing is called foraminal stenosis, and it can cause spinal nerves to become pinched.
So if one of these issues has made your big toe numb, having the spinal nerve non-surgically addressed with physical therapy or an injection of platelet growth factors sooner rather than later can save you a lot of headaches in the long run (2).Learn about Regenexx procedures for spine conditions.
Other Issues That Can Affect the Big Toe
Other issues that can affect the big toe include arthritis in the toe itself, tendon injuries, and bunions, so if there are other symptoms accompanying numbness, these should be ruled out. While arthritis is unlikely to make the big toe numb, it can cause pain and stiffness, and it, too, can disrupt how you walk.
Unfortunately, the surgical solutions for arthritis in the big toe include fusing toe bones together or amputating and replacing the toe joint, both of which are big surgeries with lengthy recoveries and can cause more problems down the line (3).
An injury to the flexor hallucis longus tendon, which runs along the bottom of the big toe, can be debilitating and extremely painful. Injuries to this tendon can disrupt the ability to flex the big toe and also disrupt ankle stability as well as many other issues. Again, you are more likely to feel intense pain with an injury such as this rather than numbness.
When chronically irritated, the low-back nerves that can make your big toe numb can also cause a bunion, or bone spur, to form on your big toe. Numbness, tightness, and pain are all signs throughout the leg and foot that can accompany this issue.
In order to understand what’s making your big toe numb, it’s important that you don’t procrastinate on having it examined; acting early will allow you to rule out other issues that can affect the big toe. It’s best to treat this problem very early before surgery becomes the only solution.
(1) Appel B. Nomenclature and classification of lumbar disc pathology. Neuroradiology. 2001 Dec;43(12):1124-5. doi:10.1097/00007632-200103010-00006
(2) Centeno C, Markle J, Dodson E, et al. The use of lumbar epidural injection of platelet lysate for treatment of radicular pain. J Exp Orthop. 2017;4(1):38. doi:10.1186/s40634-017-0113-5