Are you scared that the numbness on only the outside of your big toe is an early symptom of MS, diabetes or some other serious illness?

For some people, the sensation may be more like a tingling feeling. When the toe is pressed against a shoe, or when the person presses a finger against the toe – the sensation of numbness or tingling is felt – and only on the side.

“Numbness, tingling or paresthesia outside the big toe (typically, the inside or medial side of the big toe,) can be due to improperly fitting footwear — too narrow, pointed-toe — causing mechanical pressure on the foot,” explains Bruce Pinker, DPM, who specializes in sports medicine, disease and surgery of the foot and ankle.

This is the most common cause. It’s not hard to believe this, either, considering how many people wear improperly fitting shoes – particularly dressy or heeled shoes with very narrow toe room.

Dr. Pinker adds, “It can also be a sign of neuropathy or radiculopathy (compression on lower back nerves).”

This brings to mind the so-called pinched nerve, which is usually caused by a disc herniation.

In rare cases, pressure on the lower back nerves is caused by a tumor.

But it’s extremely unlikely that a tumor on the spine would cause just one, very localized symptom such as a little numbness or tingling on one portion of a toe.

The longer you have only the symptom of numbness on the side of your big toe – without any other progressing symptoms – the less likely the cause is serious.

What to Do

So before you jump to conclusions, ask yourself if you’ve been wearing new shoes lately. If so, stop wearing those shoes and see if the numbness goes away.

If you haven’t been wearing new shoes, then ask yourself if there’s a new kind of exercise you’ve been doing lately.

Dr. Pinker says, “As well, high impact activity or trauma can lead to numbness of the great toe.”

Have you recently begun jumping rope or doing some kind of jumping exercises?

Have you recently started kicking at a heavy bag?

How about running outside and especially downhill?

Another endeavor that can cause numbness or tingling on the outside of the big toe — or on any toe — is wall or rock climbing.

This wouldn’t be just due to the pressure on the toes during climbs, but the specialized footwear that crowds out the toes.

If you suspect an offending activity, stop that activity and see if your big toe returns to normal.

Also be aware if there are any other new symptoms that seem related, such as a burning feeling in the foot, spreading of the numbness to other toes or areas of the foot, or if the area of the big toe is red or swollen.

If the situation isn’t eliminated by making the aforementioned adjustments, and especially if it’s gotten worse or there are new symptoms, you should get the foot checked out by a doctor.

A doctor who specializes in foot care is called a podiatrist and is a fully trained medical doctor.

Dr. Pinker is with Progressive Foot Care, which provides state-of-the-art, full diagnostic testing and treatment of the foot. He’s a professional foot and ankle health and wellness speaker who delivers many original seminars annually such as “Keep On Running.”