Superheroes are, as we all know, awesome. They can do things the rest of us only dream of, like flying around (with or without capes), seeing through brick walls, throwing train engines at bad guys, or stretching themselves between the edges of a ravine to serve as a bridge for a village full of people escaping from a giant worm. Yeah. Things like that.
But perhaps one of the most useful superhero abilities is when they have that special sense that only triggers when there’s someone in danger. They’ll say, “My superhero sense is tingling!” and rush off to save the day.
So, what does it mean exactly when your feet start to tingle? Well, unless you’re a superhero, it probably doesn’t mean you need to rush off to save the mayor from a band of evil-doers on pogo sticks. But, it could mean trouble for you.
Tingling feet can be caused by a variety of conditions, although some are going to be a bit more serious than others. You can, of course, get prickly and tingly feet just from sitting or standing in the same position for a while. But other things can cause them as well, things that may need medical attention. Neuromas (benign growths in nerve tissue), ganglion cysts (soft tissue growths filled with fluid), tarsal tunnel syndrome (when a nerve gets pinched or stressed near the ankle), circulatory problems, and peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage from diabetes, alcohol, lead, tobacco, AIDS, or nutritional deficiencies, etc.) are all potential causes of your foot sense going all tingly on you.
You may notice that the tingling in you foot (or feet) confines itself to a specific area, or it may be all over your foot. Where the tingling happens can depend on the cause of your condition. For instance, neuromas can cause tingling in the ball or bottom of your foot, as can tarsal tunnel syndrome. Ganglion cysts may cause the top of your toes to tingle, and peripheral neuropathy often starts with the toes and gradually moves up the foot.
Along with tingling, you may experience numbness, prickling, burning, or electric-like shocks in your feet. And with peripheral neuropathy you may also experience a loss of muscle tone or control in your feet, or dry and cracked skin.
Most podiatrists aren’t superheroes (although, of course, some may be using the mild-mannered podiatric profession to hide their secret life of crime fighting), but they are heroes of a different sort, and are really good at figuring out what the tingling of your feet might be trying to tell you. To determine the cause of your tingly feet, your podiatrist will likely ask you about your symptoms, such as where exactly the tingling occurs, how long it’s been going on, whether anything has made it worse, and whether you’re experiencing any other symptoms. Your podiatrist will also likely examine your foot, and may press on it in an attempt to reproduce your symptoms.
Depending on the suspected cause of your tingles, your podiatrist may order some imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans or MRIs to get a look at the insides of your foot (kind of like a superhero would be able to do). Nerve conduction tests or electromyography may be used to see if there’s any damage to your nerves.
While it would be nice if you had a super power of self-healing, you’ll probably need to look to other sources to care for your tingly feet. If diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the suspected cause, you’ll need to get your blood sugar level under control as soon as possible. Treating the tingling will mean treating the diabetes. Talk with your doctor about ways to keep yourself as healthy as possible even with the disease. The tingling itself (if painful or bothersome) is sometimes eased through pain medication.
Neuromas and ganglion cysts can be taken out surgically, although your doctor will likely want to treat them conservatively first. Padding and taping the area, using medications to reduce inflammation, and orthotic devices may all be helpful in getting relief from a neuroma. Cysts can be drained, although they tend to reappear about 70% of the time. If tarsal tunnel syndrome is your trouble, rest, immobilization, medication and supportive orthotics can help relieve your symptoms. Surgery may also sometimes be necessary.
Superheroes are definitely excellent. But regular people, like your local podiatrist, can be even better than a superhero at pinpointing your tingling and addressing the cause. In fact, you might start thinking of your foot doctor as a sort of superhero anyway. Like…Podiatry Man (or Woman). You’ve got to admit, it does have a certain ring to it.