By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Does your leg go numb? One minute you're getting on with your day, the next your leg has gone numb and you've been halted in your tracks. Your leg feels like it fell asleep, you can't feel your leg or there is a tingling, painful sensation in your leg. When should you worry about a numb leg? Is a numb leg serious? What could possibly cause such as strange sensation as a numb leg? Are there any other symptoms to watch out for that go alongside a numb leg to indicate a dangerous condition? And what does it mean when only one leg, say your left leg, is numb?
What Causes Your Leg to Go Numb?
Leg numbness is typically caused by damage or irritation to the nerves serving your leg. A numb leg can also be caused by conditions affecting your brain or your spinal cord.
Fortunately, it is very rare that numbness in the legs by itself is associated with anything serious like a tumor. We've looked at the available scientific evidence to find out the top 10 causes - and cures - of a numb leg so you can walk easy again.
1. Sciatica is a Cause of a Numb Leg
Sciatica is a condition caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve and you'll feel the effects as numbness in one leg or foot, a shooting pain down the back of one thigh or in your buttock, and pain in the leg when you sit, stand, strain, cough and sneeze.
The sciatic nerve travels down the back of each thigh and it is a major nerve in your body.
Lots of things can cause sciatica, including a sprain or strain on the muscles close to the nerve, spinal stenosis (caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal in your lumbar area), spondylolisthesis (the slippage of a bone in your lower back) and - although only very rarely - benign or malignant tumors.
When the disks that cushion the bones of your spine become damaged, you can suffer a numb leg due to sciatica. One 1997 study from East Finchley Clinic, London, England discovered acupuncture as a promising treatment for sciatica but there is little other supporting evidence. The same can be said for massage, chiropractic practices, and biofeedback.
2. Diabetes Can Make Your Leg Numb/Treat Leg Numbness Due to Peripheral Neuropathy with Magnets
Diabetes - a condition where the levels of sugar in your blood are too high - is a serious condition that affects numerous parts of your body. When it comes to the legs and feet, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves which leads to numbness in your legs and feet.
This nerve condition is called "diabetic peripheral neuropathy". This condition affects up to 30% of all diabetics, according to a 2013 study from East Virginia Medical School.
According to many experts, magnetic field therapy can help treat the numbness in your feet when it is caused by diabetic peripheral neuropathy. A 2003 study from the Department of Neurology, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY tested if the constant wearing of multipolar, static magnetic shoe insoles reduced neuropathic pain and numbness. There were 375 subjects and those with severe pain achieved statistically significant reductions in numbness, tingling and pain in the feet and legs.
Vitamins may also help. Studies such as a 2008 study from Concord Repatriation Hospital in Australia have found that diabetics with nerve damage who are treated with Vitamin D supplementation report lower levels of pain and burning sensation. (Read more about Vitamin D's health benefits.)
3. Treat Numb Legs Caused by Peripheral Neuropathy with Acetyl-L-Carnitine
Another possible treatment for numb legs caused by diabetes is acetyl-L-carnitine. A 2005 study from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan studied over 1,200 people suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy and discovered that acetyl-L-carnitine at doses of 1,000mg a day improved feelings of numbness and decreased the severity of pain in the limbs.
4. Guillain-Barre Syndrome Can Cause Numb Legs
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a condition where your immune system attacks your own nerves. The condition causes weakness and tingling in your hands and feet, which spreads to the rest of the body including the legs.
When Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs in its most severe form, it is a serious medical emergency and can cause complete paralysis of the legs. The syndrome could be caused by an infection illness like a stomach flu or respiratory condition, but experts are not certain.
Guillain-Barre is rare, so it is unlikely your numb leg will be due to Guillain-Barre syndrome if you do not also have symptoms of severe pain in your lower back, difficulty speaking or swallowing, unsteady walking, a rapid heart rate and difficulty breathing.
There is unfortunately no known cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome but the most effective treatments are plasma exchange - cleansing the blood by separating out the plasma from the blood cells, and intravenous immunoglobulin from blood donors, according to 1999 research from the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.