We’ve all been there: You’re mindlessly sitting on your foot in public and then it begins. Gradually, your foot starts to feel sort of funny — like it’s slightly numb or something. Then, the tell-tale pin-pricks start to strike, climbing from your foot up to your leg. Pretty soon, you’re trying to keep your composure and playoff a full-blown pins and needles attack from a foot that has fallen asleep.
No one ever said that sitting on your foot is the best position for your posture, yet we all do it from time to time. And that’s even with the knowledge that torturous pins and needles likely aren’t far behind. When your foot falls asleep, you likely “resolve” the odd and sometimes painful feeling by simply grinning and bearing it. But you have other options when your foot falls asleep. In fact, there are some expert-recommended ways to help your foot “wake up” from its short nap — and to prevent the feeling of pins and needles in the first place.
But before we get into those helpful specifics, you may be wondering what the heck is going on with your foot when it decides to catch some Zzzs. Well, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about pins and needles and why your foot falls asleep.
Why do feet fall asleep?
When the connection between the nerves in your foot and your brain is cut off, you can experience a type of temporary paresthesia (aka pins and needles), according to Healthline. This usually happens when you sit in one position for a long time, especially with one foot under your opposite leg or while crossing your legs, which applies pressure to the vessels that supply blood to your nerves. Without that nourishing blood, nerves can’t send messages to the brain, the medical site explained.
A 2015 Vox article on the condition outlined more on what this means. “[The nerves] end up sending signals that the brain doesn’t know quite what to do with, so it starts producing different sensations, like tingling or numbness,” Vox reported.
Though it sounds pretty scary, temporary paresthesia isn’t believed to be harmful since the connection between your nerves and brain is restored quickly after you change positions. In fact, any pain or tingling associated with the compressed, irritated nerves is almost guaranteed to last for a few seconds to a minute, tops, according to research.
Can you permanently damage your foot if it falls asleep for too long?
The sensations of pins and needles aren’t normally something to worry about, so there isn’t really a reason to be concerned about lasting foot damage from your foot falling asleep. The most damage you may experience is injuring your foot if you try to walk on it before the feeling subsides.
If you experience frequent pins and needles attacks that are especially long-lasting or are coupled with other symptoms, you likely want to see a doctor for evaluation. The feeling can possibly be associated with many conditions, including diabetes, certain types of cancer, alcohol use disorders, and nerve trauma, according to Healthline. But if you can pinpoint the feeling to the way your body was positioned, it’s unlikely you have any concerning underlying condition. As always, consulting a health care professional is the best course if you have any concerns about your body.
How to “wake up” your foot when it’s asleep
There’s very little hard evidence on the best way to treat your foot when it falls asleep. But experts do have some recommendations on how to increase blood flow back into the impacted area, especially if your pins and needles are caused by sitting on your foot rather than tied to a certain medical condition.
Shake it off
Once your foot is in a comfortable position, bend your toes several times to help boost circulation. Then, rotate your ankle around in circles and move it from side to side to help restore the brain-nerve connection, some health professionals recommend.
Walk it out
Standing up or putting pressure on your foot when it’s asleep can result in injuries, like pulled muscles and sprained ankles. But once your foot regains a significant amount of feeling, walking off the rest of the lingering pricks and pains for a few minutes can help the feeling subside. Of course, be extra-cautious and move slowly.
Massage your feet
A good ol’ foot massage can help resolve pins and needles and boost circulation in your sleepy feet. Use circular motions to massage the impacted area, which will help stimulate those neglected nerves and muscles. This is also a good general treatment and preventative measure if you have a medical condition that causes your foot to fall asleep.
How to prevent pins and needles in your feet
Though pins and needles will often sneak up on you, there are ways to prevent the feeling before it begins. Mostly, these preventative techniques come down to bodily awareness and healthy foot habits.
Change positions often while sitting
Your foot often falls asleep when you compress your nerves by sitting on your foot, but it can also happen from long periods of inactivity. At least once every hour, get up and walk around to help get your blood flowing and wake up your body — especially your sleepy feet. Not only can this help prevent pins and needles, but it’s just a good health habit overall. And when you sit back down after your little stroll, don’t you dare sit on your foot.
Wear compression socks
If you have a medical condition that makes pins and needles a regular occurrence or if you occasionally experience the condition when sitting normally for a long period of time, compression socks may possibly help keep your circulation at optimal levels to avoid the condition. Try it.
Get rid of tight-fitting shoes
Ill-fitting shoes can sometimes compress the blood vessels and nerves in your foot, making you more prone to pins and needles, and the feeling that your feet have fallen sleep. Purge your closet of these footwear options and splurge on some shoes that actually prioritize comfort. It’s not a mere excuse to go shopping if it actually improves your overall foot health.