The sensation of tingling and numbness (or pins and needles) in the feet is called paresthesia. Paresthesia can be caused by a variety of different physical ailments or environmental conditions, and can either be a transient sensation or a chronic problem, depending on the source.
Transient and Acute Symptoms
Transient paresthesia is the common occurrence of pins and needles, and does not have any lasting harmful effects. This can affect your feet for a number of reasons, including open mouth hyperventilation syndrome and panic attacks. The most common reason for paresthesia is sustained pressure applied to a nerve in your legs which can inhibit, or overstimulate, the function of the nerves leading to your feet. Removing the pressure normally results in the gradual relief of the pins and needles feeling. It can also be caused by keeping the knees bent for too long, forcing blood circulation to your feet to be cut short.
Chronic paresthesia can be caused by nerve damage and poor circulation, or a combination of both. Poor circulation of the limbs may be associated with peripheral vascular disease, which can restrict blood flow and deprive nerves of nutrients. Over time, plaque build-up can rupture, causing clots and narrowing your arterial openings, or closing them altogether. With your cells unable to deliver proper signals to the brain you are left with the sensation of pins and needles in your extremities. This type of chronic paresthesia can be a symptom of vitamin deficiency, malnutrition or a metabolic disorder, like diabetes. Other possible causes of nerve damage include neuropathy and Lyme Disease.
Chronic paresthesia should be treated by a physician. A nerve conduction study or CAT scan may be needed to make a diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. In some cases, rocking your head from side to side gently can help stretch out the nerves and ease the sensation of pins and needles. Rapid relief can also come by massaging the affected area.