How to Get Rid of an "Asleep" Foot

Three Parts:Getting Rid of it YourselfGetting Alternative TherapyKnowing When to Seek Medical Attention

Reduced blood supply (poor circulation) is probably the most common reason why your feet "fall asleep," although temporary nerve compression in the ankle or even near the knee can also lead to that "pins and needles" feeling.[1] Temporary paresthesia of the foot — the medical name for it — is typically not something to worry about and usually pretty straightforward to remedy. However, if your foot or feet are constantly asleep or numb, that could represent a more serious condition such as diabetes, so a medical assessment is a good idea.

Part 1
Getting Rid of it Yourself

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    Change your leg position. In most cases, cutting off the circulation to your foot by crossing your legs is the reason it goes numb. The blood vessels around your knee can get compressed with leg crossing or other contorted positions. Furthermore, the nerves that innervate your foot muscles are positioned next to the blood vessels, so some nerve entrapment or compression is not unusual either. As such, simply change your position by uncrossing your legs so that your foot gets its proper blood supply and nerve input.[2]
    • The foot that you cross over is typically the one that "falls asleep."
    • As the blood starts to flow properly into your foot again, it should feel a little warmer and somewhat prickly for a few minutes.
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    Stand up. In addition to changing your leg position (if leg crossing caused the pins and needles in your feet), stand up from your chair in order to promote better circulation. When you stand up, you enlist the help of gravity, which helps pull the blood from the upper leg into the foot. Arteries have smooth muscle fibers that contract and push the blood down in correlation with your heart beating, but standing up might make the process occur a little quicker.[3]
    • Moving your foot in all directions (circular motions for 15-20 seconds) will likely help with circulation also and reduce the numbness or pins and needles sensation a little quicker.
    • While standing, a light leg stretch (such as bending at the waist and trying to touch your toes) might help "wake up" your feet also.
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    Walk it off. After switching positions and un-kinking blood vessels and/or nerves of your lower leg, consider walking around to promote better circulation. The main caveat here is, make sure your have some feeling and normal strength in your foot otherwise you risk tripping or collapsing and causing an injury.[4]
    • Once you change your position, pins and needles in the feet don't last for more than a few minutes.
    • Permanent foot damage can occur if blood flow is restricted and nerves are compressed for many hours.[5]
    • Simply shaking your asleep foot may be a safer alternative to walking if you still feel significant numbness or pins and needles.
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    Wear shoes that fit properly. Pins and needles and/or numbness of the foot is sometimes caused by poorly fitting shoes. Cramming your feet into a narrow shoe is not good for circulation or nerve flow and may cause your feet to fall asleep — particularly if you walk or stand a lot.[6] As such, choose shoes that grip your heel tightly, support your arches, provide enough room to wiggle your toes, and are made of breathable materials (such as a leather insole).
    • Avoid wearing narrow-toed high heels.
    • If your foot symptoms are primarily on the top part of your foot, then try loosening your laces.
    • Get fitted for your shoes by a shoe salesperson later in the day because that's when your feet are at their largest, usually due to swelling and slight compression of your arches.[7]
    • When at your desk at work, consider taking your shoes off so your feet are less constricted and can breathe.
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    Take a warm foot bath. In some cases, pins and needles in your feet might be caused by tight or strained muscles of your lower leg, such as your calves. Soaking your feet and lower legs in a warm Epsom salt bath can stimulate circulation and significantly reduce pain and muscle tension.[8] The magnesium in the salt helps the muscles relax. If inflammation and swelling is a problem for you then follow the warm salt bath with an ice bath until your feet feel numb (about 15 minutes or so).
    • Always dry your feet thoroughly before you get up and walk away from your foot bath in order to prevent slips and falls.
    • A dietary lack of minerals (such as calcium or magnesium) or vitamins (such as B6 or B12) can contribute to uncomfortable symptoms in your feet and legs.

Part 2
Getting Alternative Therapy

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    Get a foot/leg massage. Get a massage therapist or sympathetic friend to give you a foot and calf massage. Massage reduces muscle tension and promotes better blood flow.[9] Start rubbing from the toes and work towards the calf so you help the venous blood return back to the heart. Allow the therapist (or friend) to go as deep as you can tolerate without wincing.
    • Always drink lots of water immediately following a massage in order to flush out inflammatory by-products and lactic acid from your body. Failure to do so might cause a headache or mild nausea.
    • Consider applying peppermint massage lotion to your feet also, as it will tingle and invigorate them in a good way.
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    Join a yoga class. Yoga is an aspect of traditional Chinese medicine that encourages health by proper breathing, meditation and placing the body into various challenging poses.[10] In addition to stimulating energy flow, the body poses act to stretch and strengthen your muscles and improve your overall posture. Increasing your flexibility, particularly in your legs, might prevent your feet from falling asleep when your cross your legs or put them in other contorted positions.
    • As a beginner, yoga poses might create some soreness in the muscles of your legs and other areas — it should fade away in a few days.
    • If certain yoga poses increase the pins and needles in your feet, then stop immediately and ask your instructor for feedback on your technique.
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    Consider acupuncture. Acupuncture involves sticking very thin needles into specific energy points within the skin and/or muscle in efforts to reduce pain and inflammation and promote better circulation.[11] Acupuncture for chronically poor leg circulation and associated symptoms can be effective, although it's not commonly recommended by medical doctors. Based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by releasing a variety of substances including endorphins and serotonin, which act to reduce discomfort.
    • Acupuncture points that may help your foot and leg symptoms are not all located near where you feel the symptoms — some can be in distant parts of the body.
    • Acupuncture is practiced by a variety of health professionals including some physicians, chiropractors, naturopaths, physical therapists and massage therapists — whoever you choose should be certified by NCCAOM.

Part 3
Knowing When to Seek Medical Attention

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    See your family doctor. If your feet seem to constantly be asleep and involve other symptoms such as pain, weakness, temperature changes or discoloration, then it's time to schedule an appointment with your physician.[12] Your doctor will examine your feet and legs and ask questions about your family history, diet and lifestyle, and maybe even send you for a blood test (to check blood glucose levels and rule out the possibility of diabetes).
    • Your family doctor is not a neurological or circulatory specialist, so you may need a referral to another doctor with more specialized training.
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    Get a referral to a specialist. Feet that fall asleep on occasion is not considered a serious medical problem, just more of an annoyance, but there are some serious conditions that can cause similar symptoms such as diabetic neuropathy, venous insufficiency (leaky vein valves of the lower leg), chronic compartment syndrome (swelling of the lower leg muscles), or Peripheral artery disease (PAD).[13] As such, a medical specialist may be needed to properly diagnose your condition, such as a vascular surgeon, a neurologist or an orthopedist (musculoskeletal specialist).
    • Foot symptoms related to diabetic neuropathy include: numbness and tingling, reduced ability to feel pain or temperature changes, muscle cramps, burning pain, muscle weakness, painful ulcers that won't heal, pain from a light touch, toenail changes.[14]
    • Risk factors for developing neuropathy include type 1 and type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, smoking, and hypertension. Cardiovascular disease at baseline is associated with double the risk of neuropathy.
    • Common symptoms of venous insufficiency include: swelling in the lower legs and ankles, aching or tiredness in the legs, discolored leathery-looking skin on the feet and lower legs, numbness and tingling, stasis ulcers.[15] Diagnosis is made on venous ultrasound with a reversed flow.
    • Risk factors for venous insufficiency include: increasing age, family history, prolonged standing, increases in BMI, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and lower extremity trauma.
    • Vascular ultrasound is a painless procedure that allows a doctor to assess the function of the veins and arteries of your lower leg.
    • PAD is a disease of the lower extremity arteries and is characterized by painful muscle cramping in the hips, thighs or calves when walking, climbing stairs, or exercising; this pain will dissipate when you rest.[16] The pain is an indication that your legs and feet aren't receiving sufficient blood flow. PAD increases your risk of coronary artery disease, stroke and heart attack.[17]
    • Risk factors for PAD include: age greater that 70, history of smoking or diabetes, abnormal pulse, and known atherosclerosis.
    • Neurologists can order a nerve conduction study (NCS) and/or an electromyelography (EMG) to test the ability of the nerves in your feet and legs in transmitting electrical messages.
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    See a podiatrist. A podiatrist is a foot specialist who can give you another informed opinion about your foot issue if it's lingering and becoming a chronic problem. A podiatrist will examine your foot for any trauma that may have damaged any nerves or benign growths or tumors that are irritating and/or compressing nerves or blood vessels. A podiatrist can also prescribe custom-made shoes or orthotics (shoe inserts) for your feet to increase comfort and protection.
    • A neuroma is a benign growth of nerve tissue often found between the third and fourth toes, which can cause pain and pins and needles in the feet.[18]


  • Avoid crossing your legs or ankles when you sit, as it seems to trigger feet falling asleep.
  • Don't sit or stand in the one place for too long. Move around often, especially if you're desk-bound for a living.
  • Quit smoking because it negatively impacts blood pressure and circulation.
  • Don't drink excessive amounts of alcohol because ethanol is toxic to your body, particularly the small blood vessels and nerves that supply the feet.
  • About 2/3 of people with diabetes experience mild to severe forms of nerve damage, which can lead to a pins and needles sensation in your feet.
  • Try to wiggle each toe individually, then different muscles in the foot, and then the entire leg. This might be painful but it will help you feel better fast.
  • Move around a lot.
  • Run warm water over your foot; it will stimulate and help blood flow.
  • Wriggle your toes and feet around.
  • If you are in school all day or work in a office try different positions and move or tap your feet.


  • See your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following signs or symptoms: quickly escalating foot pain and swelling, weakness in your foot or leg, high fever, rapid foot discoloration, sudden unexplained weight loss.

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Categories: Feet Knees and Legs