We all know the feeling. It creeps in at a moment’s notice and leaves its victim with a temporary case of paralysis.
You attempt to shake it off but it’s too late. The toes begin to tingle; a limp numbness invades the heel; a burning sensation shoots from the sole.
Your foot has fallen asleep.
So, what is this mysterious phenomenon that strikes millions of people daily?
The human body is home to thousands of nerves. The primary task of these bundles of fibers is to transmit information to each part of the body, including the brain. In the case of a “sleeping foot,” which of course is not literally taking a snooze, something as trivial as sitting in an awkward position causes pressure on the limb.
“If I am sitting in the same place for a long time, yeah, my foot begins to tingle,” said Nicole, a junior finance and real estate double major, who chose not to disclose her surname.
As a result, the nerves begin to constrict and subsequently prevent key messages from arriving in the brain. Then the prickling of pins and needles set in. In the medical world, this temporary slowing down of the nerve is known as neuropraxia.
In actuality, the unpleasant numbness is advantageous. It serves as a warning to change the position of your foot before it is too late. Letting a limb sleep for several minutes does not pose any serious health threats, but allowing a foot to doze off for hours on end can result in permanent nerve damage.
To extinguish the firing sensation in your foot, Dr. Gordon Ijelu, of Gordon Medical Associates, suggests shifting its position.
“Kind of walk around and see whether it comes back.”
Sophomore Chanice Savage developed her own remedy to combat a sleeping foot.
“I actually do this little stepping dance thing,” Savage said. “I keep moving them back and forth, both of them on the ground until it feels normal.”
Ijelu said the type of clothes and shoes worn may play a factor in the case of a sleeping foot.
“If your shoe is too tight, if you wear tight clothes, it can cause your foot to fall asleep, because the pressure around the waist, in the foot, and around the back can cause the circulation to cut off,” Ijelu said. “So it is much better if you make sure you wear loose clothing and shoes.”
If repeated attempts to exercise fail to increase blood flow and wake up the foot, it may be a sign of the more complicated neuropathy.
Neuropathy is a serious symptom of a larger issue. The pain associated with the transitory neuropraxia also exists in neuropathy but for a longer duration.
“It’s very common in those patients, who have some form of medical problem, like high blood pressure, diabetes especially, as well as in elderly people because as you grow older your circulation is not as good as when your much younger,” Ijelu said.
In addition to the aforementioned diseases, chronic alcoholism, blood clots, thyroid disorder and chronic fatigue can also contribute to the onset of neuropathy.
Since neuropathy is an indication of a chronic condition, Dr. Alan Weisman suggests it is best to “figure out the root of the problem.”
At his practice, Podiatric Medial and Surgical Associates, a patient came in complaining of numbness in two toes. Weisman ordered blood work, which subsequently revealed the patient suffered from diabetes. Diabetics, in particular, need to be cautious since they are prone to diabetic neuropathy.
“In diabetics, the hormones in your body do not respond to sugar, it stays in your blood stream,” Weisman said. “The sugar causes the nerves to swell.”
These swollen nerves can cause that tingling feeling a person senses when the foot has fallen asleep. There are medications available to treat neuropathy, but as always consult with a medical professional first.
Aneesha Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.