Tingling in legs: What could be the cause?

We’ve all felt it, that familiar tingling feeling in your leg after you’ve been in the same position for too long, also known as pins and needles. But there are a number of other causes for a tingling sensation in the legs that you may not be aware of, especially if you are experiencing the feeling on a regular basis.

What is the Cause of Tingling in Legs? 

Frequent episodes of a tingling sensation in the legs and feet can be the result of many common causes, some of which are benign and some that are more sinister in nature.

Anxiety

People who suffer from anxiety can have some symptoms that vary wildly in frequency, duration, and severity. But many people experience tingling, numbness or pain in the extremities as a result of chronic anxiety or stress that can worsen when trying to go to sleep or during a panic attack.

Systemic Diseases

Diabetes is the perfect example of how systemic disease can cause a tingling feeling in the legs. Many people with lifelong diabetes or uncontrolled adult-onset diabetes suffer a complication known as diabetic neuropathy, which typically starts in the feet and legs and can progress to the arms and hands.

Diabetic neuropathy is the result of nerve damage that is caused by chronically high blood sugar levels and can have other symptoms such as a burning sensation, feeling of numbness, and pain in the affected limbs.

Sciatica

Caused by damage or pressure on the sciatic nerve, the tingling, pain, or numbness sciatica can cause usually starts in the buttocks of the affected leg and travels down the leg to the ankle and sometimes into the foot. It usually only affects one leg at a time and is generally treated with anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Many vitamin deficiencies can cause tingling in the extremities. A Vitamin B12, or cyanocobalamin, deficiency is the most notable of these and can lead to pernicious anemia, which can cause peripheral neuropathy. Other vitamin deficiencies that can cause tingling and similar symptoms in the extremities include:

  • Pyridoxine or Vitamin B6
  • Niacin
  • Thiamine or Vitamin B1
  • Tocopherol or Vitamin E

An electrolyte imbalance can also cause tingling in the legs. Potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium are the four main electrolytes that carry an electrical charge and help regulate nerve impulses. When they are out of balance, this can lead to the irregular firing of the nerves and the sensation of numbness or tingling in the extremities.

Bacterial or Viral Infections

Many infectious diseases can cause damage to the nerves in the body resulting in severe complications and symptoms. Some of these infections include:

  • Shingles or herpes varicella zoster virus
  • Lyme disease
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • HIV/AIDS

The herpes virus is the most notorious of the above infectious conditions, especially when it comes to nerve damage, which is typically found in the nerves of the face, ears, eyes, and extremities. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to excruciating pain and can last for months or years after an active infection.

Venous Diseases

Vein diseases like deep vein thrombosis or DVT, and even varicose veins, can cause tingling in the legs. This is because venous disease disrupts the normal flow of blood throughout the body and can lead to blood clots, which can cut off the blood supply to nerves.

For example, deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg. A DVT can be large enough to put pressure on surrounding nerves, or cut off blood supply to the nerves causing the pins and needles sensation, numbness and even pain the leg.

DVT can be a dangerous condition if left untreated. A piece of the clot can break away and travel to the lungs leading to a pulmonary embolism, which can be deadly. Call your doctor immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the chest which can become worse when inhaling deeply, eating, bending over, coughing, or exercising
  • A bloody cough
  • Irregular or rapid heart rate
  • Sweating excessively
  • Dizziness or lightheaded feeling