Is tingling in feet MS?

Tingling or numbness in the feet can be caused by many different conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause a wide range of symptoms. Tingling or numbness in the extremities, including the feet, is one of the most common early symptoms of MS. However, not everyone who experiences foot tingling has MS. There are many other potential causes that need to be evaluated by a doctor. This article will explore the link between MS and tingling feet, how to tell if it could be MS, other possible causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers, causing damage that disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Some of the key facts about MS include:

  • It often starts between ages 20-40, but can occur at any age.
  • Women are affected 3 times more often than men.
  • There are several forms of MS with varying severity and patterns of symptoms.
  • Symptoms are different for each person and can change or fluctuate over time.
  • There is currently no cure, but treatment focuses on managing symptoms and slowing progression.

While MS itself is not fatal, complications can potentially shorten life expectancy in some patients. However, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, many with MS are able to maintain a good quality of life.

Tingling and Numbness as an Early Sign of MS

Tingling or numbness in the extremities, including the feet, is one of the most common early signs of MS. This numbness or tingling is known medically as paresthesia. Up to 80% of people with MS experience paresthesia at some point. It occurs when the myelin sheath around nerve fibers becomes damaged, disrupting the signals to the brain.

Areas most often affected include:

  • Legs and feet
  • Arms and hands
  • Face
  • Trunk or torso

Paresthesia can manifest as:

  • Tingling, pins-and-needles, prickly or crawling sensation
  • Numbness
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Feeling of swelling or tightness

These abnormal sensations are usually temporary at first, coming and going. They often begin in the feet and may spread upward. Other early signs and symptoms that can occur along with tingling include:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Muscle weakness
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Problems with bladder control
  • Mood changes like depression
  • Intense itching

If you develop any unusual sensations like tingling, numbness, or nerve pain, it’s important to see a doctor promptly for evaluation. Early treatment can help slow the disease course.

What Causes the Tingling and Numbness?

In MS, the tingling and numbness are caused by damage to myelin and nerve fibers from inflammation and lesions (injured areas). Myelin is a fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers, much like insulation around electrical wires. When myelin is damaged, it interrupts the transmission of nerve signals.

Inflammation triggered by an autoimmune reaction appears to erode myelin and cause nerve fiber damage. This process leads to scar tissue (sclerosis) in multiple spots throughout the central nervous system – thus the name multiple sclerosis. When lesions form in areas responsible for sensation, nerve signals get disrupted, causing tingling or numbness.

How to Tell if Tingling is Related to MS

Tingling or numbness in the feet can have many causes besides MS. About 10-20% of the general population has likely experienced temporary tingling at some point. How can you know if it may be linked to MS? Here are some factors doctors consider:

  • Pattern of symptoms – MS paresthesia usually starts in the extremities and spreads upward. It often affects both sides of the body. The tingling or numbness comes and goes randomly.
  • Progression – In MS, symptoms tend to progressively worsen over time, with flare-ups followed by periods of remission.
  • Other accompanying symptoms – If tingling occurs along with other common MS symptoms like vision problems, weakness, bladder issues, or fatigue, it raises the likelihood of MS.
  • MRI findings – Brain and spinal cord MRI scans can detect MS lesions and nerve damage.
  • Oligoclonal bands – MS diagnosis involves testing cerebrospinal fluid for proteins called oligoclonal bands, which indicate immune system inflammation.
  • Age and gender – MS symptoms often begin between ages 20-40. Women are affected 3 times more than men.

If your symptoms match the typical profile for MS, your doctor will do a full neurological evaluation and tests to confirm an MS diagnosis.

Other Possible Causes of Tingling Feet

While tingling feet can be a sign of MS, there are many other potential causes your doctor will consider:


High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can damage nerves over time, leading to paresthesia. It commonly starts in the feet and may spread upward. Tingling often affects both feet. Managing blood sugar levels is key.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Low levels of vitamins B1, B5, B6, B12, E, and folate can disrupt normal nerve functioning. Improving your diet or supplementation can help treat a vitamin deficiency.

Alcohol Abuse

Chronic heavy drinking may cause alcoholic neuropathy. Damaged nerves produce tingling and numbness, often beginning in the feet and legs. Quitting alcohol is essential.


Some chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer are toxic to nerves. This can cause tingling in the hands and feet during or after chemotherapy. Switching medications may help.

Autoimmune Diseases

Besides MS, other autoimmune conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes cause nerve damage and paresthesia.

Restless Leg Syndrome

RLS produces crawling or tingling sensations that cause an irresistible urge to move your legs for relief. Symptoms are worse at rest.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Advanced kidney disease allows a buildup of toxins that can injure peripheral nerves, leading to tingling. Dialysis treatment may help remove toxins.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Damage to the peripheral nerves causes burning, numbness, and tingling, often in the feet and hands. Contributing factors include diabetes, infections, autoimmune diseases, toxin exposure, and nerve compression.

Pinched Nerves

A pinched nerve in the spine from a herniated disc can cause radiating paresthesia down the legs. Depending on the location, it may affect one leg or both.

Vitamin B6 Toxicity

Consuming high doses of Vitamin B6 supplements can possibly damage nerves. Symptoms include numbness or reduced sensation in the extremities.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pressure on the median nerve in the wrist causes tingling in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Wearing a splint at night and physical therapy provide relief.

In many cases, the cause may not be identifiable. Thorough testing is needed to determine the underlying reason for tingling feet. Let your doctor know if you have any other medical conditions or take medications, vitamins or supplements.

Diagnosis of MS-Related Tingling

To diagnose MS, doctors take several steps to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms:

  • Medical history – The doctor asks about your symptoms, when they started, family history, other medical conditions, and more.
  • Neurological exam – Tests check your nerve reflexes, sensation, vision, muscle strength and coordination.
  • MRI – Magnetic resonance imaging scans show any areas of nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Spinal tap – Cerebrospinal fluid is tested for oligoclonal bands and other markers of MS.
  • Sensory tests – Nerve conduction studies check how well signals travel along sensory pathways.
  • Blood tests – Blood work helps rule out medical mimics like vitamin deficiencies.

Based on results, your neurologist determines if you meet diagnostic criteria for MS. Prompt, accurate diagnosis allows early treatment.

MS Treatment for Tingling and Numbness

While no cure for MS exists yet, various therapies aim to manage symptoms, prevent flare-ups, slow disease progression and improve quality of life. Treatment options may include:


  • Corticosteroids reduce inflammation during acute flare-ups.
  • Immunomodulators modulate the immune system to reduce attacks on myelin.
  • Monoclonal antibodies target immune system cells to protect nerves.
  • Dalfampridine improves signal conduction in nerve fibers.

Lifestyle Changes

Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, limiting stress, and eating a balanced diet with sufficient vitamin D and antioxidants may help.

Physical Therapy

PT builds strength, flexibility and coordination. Electrical nerve stimulation may relieve paresthesia symptoms.

Complementary Therapies

Options like massage, acupuncture, meditation, and yoga help manage stress and symptoms. More research is needed on their efficacy.

A multidisciplinary approach works best. Your doctor can customize a treatment plan based on your symptoms, disease severity, and priorities. While MS has no cure yet, focusing treatment on maximizing function and quality of life is key.

When to See a Doctor

Consult your doctor promptly if you experience any episodes of tingling, numbness or other unusual sensations in your feet or elsewhere. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in MS. Seek emergency care if you develop sudden weakness or paralysis, slurred speech, vision loss or bladder problems along with tingling. Such symptoms may indicate a serious MS attack requiring immediate treatment.

Outlook for Tingling and MS

Tingling and numbness caused by MS often respond well to treatment initially, though symptoms may come and go. Over time, nerve damage can become permanent in some cases. However, the disease course is highly variable – some experience few limitations for decades after diagnosis.

Newer treatments offer hope. More potent medications, stem cell therapy and better symptom management are improving the long-term outlook.

Staying proactive with treatment and healthy lifestyle choices makes the biggest difference in living well with MS. Work closely with your medical team and stay up to date on the latest advances.


Tingling or numbness in the feet can be one of the first warning signs of multiple sclerosis. But not all paresthesia is due to MS. Diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, peripheral neuropathy and other conditions need to be ruled out by your doctor. Pay attention to the pattern, progression and accompanying symptoms you experience. Diagnostic tests like MRI and spinal fluid analysis help confirm an MS diagnosis. While no cure exists currently, various treatments help manage tingling and other MS symptoms, allowing those affected to maintain their quality of life. Stay hopeful as research makes steady progress in better understanding MS and developing more effective therapies.

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