Why Do I Feel Toe Numbness After Wearing Heels? (Causes & When To Worry)

Various health conditions can specifically cause toe numbness. It may be related to nerve problems, neuropathy, blood circulation issues, joint deformity, metatarsalgia, etc. Most disorders that cause this problem are usually harmless.

If you have ever worn high heels, you will relate to the various levels of discomfort one feels after wearing them. It can range from having sore feet and a muscle cramp to sometimes experiencing numbness in the toes, and occasionally excruciating pain.

How long does it take to start feeling pain or numbness after wearing heels?

According to research conducted by the College of Podiatry, it was found out that it takes an average of only 1 hour 6 minutes, and 48 seconds for high heel wearers to start feeling pain and discomfort and 20% of wearers feel the same in just 10 minutes.

The problem usually presents itself with pain first and eventually leads to loss of sensation in the toes when the feet are kept continuously in a particular position constantly.

What causes numbness of the toes after wearing high heels for a while?

1. Morton’s Neuroma

The most common cause of toe numbness after wearing high-heeled footwear is a condition called Morton’s neuroma.

A neuroma is also referred to as a pinched nerve or a small tumor (non-cancerous) of the nerve which occurs over some time. It develops 8 to 10 times more often in women than in men due to high heel usage.

In this disorder, the covering over the nerve thickens as it forms a fibrous scar on the nerve sheath due to it being constantly irritated or impinged over time.

The symptoms are pain, numbness, and tingling usually in between the third and fourth toes but it can also sometimes occur on the other toes.

2. Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy simply means damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord, in this instance it refers to the nerve in the foot that leads to the toes.

Walking with your foot flexed downwards as one does with high heels places more weight on the balls of your toes which forces one to move and stand unnaturally.

The position causes the hip, knee, ankle, and foot to move out of alignment and tilts your pelvis forward which subconsciously makes us over arch the back to maintain an upright posture.

This postural adjustment puts undue pressure on the sciatic nerve and irritates it which can cause pain, numbness, tingling radiating from the lower back and leg to the toes, this condition is called sciatica. 

3. Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is also a peripheral nerve problem that compresses the tibial nerve located inside the ankle joint. Common symptoms include paresthesia, tingling, tenderness, and numbness in the toes, sole, and ankle.

This syndrome is more common in chronic conditions like arthritis and diabetes but can also manifest as an aftereffect of wearing heels.

4. Diabetic neuropathy

Diabetes causes an array of foot problems due to high levels of glucose in the blood, which damages one’s nerves. Diabetics should be more careful while wearing heels because they are more prone to injuries due to numbness and decreased sensation in the toes and feet.  

Due to injury to the nerve, people with diabetic neuropathy suffer from burning, sharp cramps or pain, tingling, ulcers, and infections.

It also results in numbness, reduced sensation to touch, pain, or temperature, sometimes it produces increased sensitivity to the slightest touch which can also be painful.

5. Venous Insufficiency

The lower extremity veins work very hard to deliver blood back to your heart for circulation. When the veins do not function adequately and don’t facilitate pumping of the blood back to your heart, venous insufficiency occurs. 

Walking in high heels greatly limits normal muscle pumping-action of the calves, which in turn causes blood to pool in the legs and it brings about cramping, heaviness, skin changes, and numbness anywhere from the calf right up to the toes. 

6. Joint Deformities 

Hallux limitus is a condition that occurs when the joint at the base of the foot becomes misaligned and thus causes reduced mobility. Prolonged heel use can result in a bony bump or growth on the top and at the base of the big toe and also sometimes at the side and edge of the toe. 

It causes the joint at the base of your big toe to bulge outward and the tip of your big toe gets turned towards the smaller toes. 

When the bump appears at the side and edge of the big toe it is called a bunion and it causes a similar deformed big toe as seen in Hallux limitus. Both these conditions are painful and can many times lead to numbness of the big toe due to damage of the nerve supplying that area of the foot.

7. Metatarsalgia 

Metatarsalgia refers to pain in the area under the head of the metatarsal bones of the foot i.e bones under the forefoot and toes, the sharp pain is commonly accompanied by loss of sensation and tingling. It occurs due to the thinning of the fat pad under your foot due to overuse.

Even a mere 3-inch high heel puts 7 times more pressure on the ball of your foot than regular footwear. This condition can generally be managed at home as it is not that serious.

Should I be worried if my toe is numb after wearing heels?

There are serious conditions, even if they rarely are the cause, they should not be ignored and have to be ruled out to be the cause of numbness in the toes after using heels.

Guillain-Barré syndrome

An autoimmune disease that causes toe numbness that spreads upwards towards the body. It also presents with weakness, blood pressure changes, breathing problems, pain, increased heart rate, and paralyzed facial muscles.

Fibromyalgia 

A chronic long-lasting disease that causes overall tenderness, general body ache, stiffness, soreness without any activity, and usually, after rest, memory issues, chronic fatigue, and some people also experience toe, foot, and hand numbness.

Multiple Sclerosis

Causes nerve damage in a specific area or even the entire limb. Numbness, associated with multiple sclerosis although for a short period can be debilitating

TIA(transient ischemic attacks/ Mini strokes) and strokes 

Can cause damage to parts of the brain that perceive sensation and can lead to long-lasting or temporary numbness in different areas of the body.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

An autoimmune disease that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus that causes reduced blood flow to toes and can also turn them white, blue, or red and can cause numbness as well.

FAQs

How to avoid foot discomfort from wearing high heels?

1. Avoid heels over 2 inches as it puts undue pressure on the toes over long periods.

2. Consider wearing flat shoes during your commute and switch to heels if you absolutely have to wear heels at the office/event.

3. Choose footwear that fits you correctly. If you have to wear heels at all costs choose a pair that has enough room to accommodate the front of your foot and that has a big enough toe box area. 

4. Add toe crest pads or metatarsal pads to your footwear to make them snug and relieve some pressure on your metatarsals.

5. Switch to comfortable footwear like flats or sneakers, for some days to help your foot heal and recover.

How to get relief from foot pain and numbness after wearing high heels?

1. Toe numbness associated with toe and foot pain arises after a day of heel wearing and this discomfort is sometimes called the ‘high heel hangover’, like other ‘hangovers’ all you can do is rest, hydrate, medicate and hope that the pain goes away. But given below are some tried and tested methods that provide relief from the annoying discomfort one experiences after wearing high heels.

2. Stretch and exercise the foot and toes.

3. Rest 

4. Apply heat packs

5. Ice 

6. Massage the foot

7. Braces or orthotic devices for foot support will relieve nerve pressure and further reduce overuse damage.

8. Epsom salt baths will help you relax physically and mentally.

9. Sleep is important especially if you have had an important event that was strenuous.

10. A healthy and balanced diet re-fuels your body with the necessary vitamins and minerals required. Especially vitamin B3, B6, and B12, which if reduced can cause numbness in your extremities.

11. Hydrate adequately.

12. Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption, as it contains certain chemicals that can hamper your nerve function and result in numbness.

13. Switch to comfortable footwear like flats or sneakers to help your foot heal and recover.

When should you get professional help for toe numbness after wearing heels?

If the numbness is persistent and constant. If you also happen to experience nausea, dizziness, fatigue, cramps, burning, and spasms, and when the above symptoms fluctuate and won’t go away on its own.

Consult with an appropriate medical provider to get a diagnosis and ease the discomfort as soon as you can.