Why Is My Big Toe Numb?

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If your big toe is numb or 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. There is a nerve to big toe connection, specifically the L5 spinal nerve in the lower back because it 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?

Not necessarily.

The numbness in the big toe could be that initial early-warning sign, and back pain or stiffness might develop if it isn’t addressed. On the other hand, you could have a pinched nerve in your low back and experience no back pain or other back symptoms at all.

Can a pinched nerve cause toe numbness?

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 nonsurgically 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).

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What else can be affecting your 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. Damage to this tendon can disrupt the ability to flex the big toe and negatively affect ankle stability as well as many other issues. Again, you are more likely to feel intense pain rather than numbness with this kind of injury.

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.

RELATED ARTICLES

> You May Have a Pinched Low Back Nerve Despite What Your Doctor Thinks
>> What Is Foraminal Stenosis?
>> Nerve Damage After Surgery

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References

(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

(3) Försth P, Ólafsson G, Carlsson T, et al. A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Fusion Surgery for Lumbar Spinal Stenosis. N Engl J Med. 2016;374(15):1413-1423. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1513721
Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, please email us at info@regenexx.com

NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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