Ways to Test for Neuropathy in Feet

Neuropathy can be difficult to notice at first. Even though we use our feet every day, most of us aren’t aware of the feeling in our feet on a day-to-day basis. This makes it hard to pinpoint when something starts to change.

When you do start to notice strange sensations or numbness in your feet, you may wonder what’s happening or even if you’re imagining it.

The good news is that there are a number of easy ways to test for neuropathy in feet right from the comfort of your home.

If you’re worried, try these tests at home. They may be enough to either put your mind at ease, or indicate that you should look for a professional opinion.

What Is Neuropathy?

Neuropathy—also known as peripheral neuropathy—is a condition in which the peripheral nerves are damaged. The peripheral nerves come off of the spinal cord and link the brain to various parts of the body.

When the nerves are damaged, the messages between the brain and body get distorted. This leads to strange and often uncomfortable or painful sensations that have no apparent cause.

There are three different types of peripheral nerves that can be affected, they are:

  • Motor nerves, which control muscle movements
  • Sensory nerves, which relay sensation information like temperature
  • Autonomic nerves, which regulate autonomic body functions


The symptoms of neuropathy can vary depending on the individual and which nerves have been damaged.

If the motor nerves have been damaged, symptoms may include a lack of coordination, unexplained weakness, and even paralysis.

When the sensory nerves are damaged—which is most common—you may experience strange, uncomfortable, or painful sensations, most often in the hands and feet.

These sensations may include tingling, pins and needles, pain, numbness, sensitivity to touch, heat or cold, or feeling like you’re wearing a sock or gloves when you aren’t.

As well as strange sensations, you may also lose sensation entirely, which may lead to injuries to the feet going unnoticed.

If the autonomic nerves have been affected, you may experience problems with body functions that should be automatic.

These may include being unable to regulate your body temperature, excessive sweating or no sweating, blood pressure fluctuations, or digestive problems.


One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. Other causes include traumatic injury to the nerves, infection, toxin exposure, and metabolic disorders.

Ways to Test for Neuropathy

It can be difficult to tell if you have neuropathy initially. It often begins in the hands and feet, so this is the easiest place to test for it.

You can perform these quick and easy tests at home, which will give you an indication of whether or not you may have peripheral neuropathy.

Sensation Test

Losing sensation is one of the most common signs of neuropathy. This test will help you test if your sensation has been diminished.

You can do the test by yourself, but it’s more effective to have someone else help you.

It works best if you are lying down. Make sure your shoes and socks are off and your bare feet are facing the person who’s helping you.

Close your eyes and focus on your feet. Your helper should lightly run their finger down the sole of your foot.

They can use something light like a feather to tickle your feet, or use an ice block for a cold sensation. You can try more than one to ensure the test is comprehensive.

They should not tell you when they’re about to do it. As you’re focusing on your feet, notice if you feel the sensation that matches what they’re doing.

Your helper should do this on both feet, one at a time. It’s a good idea to repeat the test a few times to ensure the results.

If you can feel the finger or feather running down your feet, then the test counts as being negative for neuropathy.

If you can’t feel it, then the test is positive for neuropathy. You may feel it on one side and not on the other side, which still counts as a positive test.

Touch Test

The touch test is very simple. Again, you can do it by yourself or ask someone else to help you, but it always works better if someone helps.

Get your helper to touch your big toe with their finger. This should be a natural touch, not a hard poke or a very gentle touch.

Then, they should touch your middle—3rd—toe, and then move onto the 5th toe. There’s no need to rush through this.

Once they’ve finished on one foot, they should do the same on the other foot.

It also works best if you keep your eyes closed while conducting this test. This prevents your brain from “false positives”, in which you think you feel something because you know you should.

This test can also be done 3 to 4 times on each foot. If you feel each touch, your test is negative for neuropathy.

If you don’t feel any of the touches, then your test is positive for neuropathy. However, if you only feel a few of the touches but don’t feel others, then your test is probably also positive but the neuropathy could be in the earlier stages or only certain nerves are damaged.


This is a form of the sensation test. Those with neuropathy often don’t feel pain when their foot does get injured, although they may feel pain for no reason.

Like with the other exercises, lie down with your feet bare and close your eyes. Have your helper gently poke your foot in various places with a pin.

Make sure that they’re not sticking it deep into the skin. They should not be drawing blood during this test!

You want to just poke the skin lightly, in a way that would normally cause a small pinprick of pain. Make sure to keep your feet as still as possible so you don’t accidentally stab yourself with the pin.

Your helper should try pricking the toes, the forefoot, under the arch, and the heel. They should repeat this exercise on both feet.

This will indicate whether or not the nerves in the feet are still sensitive to pain. If you can feel the pin pricks, then your test is negative. If you can’t, the test is positive. Again, if you can feel it on one side and not on the other, it still counts as a positive test.

Brush Running Across the Skin

If you have a paintbrush, you can do this test easily. Instead of using a finger or feather on your feet, try running the brush lightly across the foot and take note of whether or not you feel ticklish.

If you can feel the brush running along your skin but you don’t feel ticklish, we advise trying another test to double-check.

TUG (Timed Up and Go)

This test is not about pain or sensation, but rather about feeling in the feet and how it relates to movement. You don’t need anybody to help you with this exercise, but you do need a chair, a timer, and another object that you can place on the floor.

You will place your random object on the floor about 10 feet in front of the chair. Make sure that there’s nothing else between you and the object.

Then, sit in the chair, start your timer, and get up from the chair. You’ll need to walk towards the object, walk around it, and walk back to the chair. You should finish in a seated position where you will click your timer again.

If it takes you longer than 13.5 seconds to do this walk, the test is positive and indicates a higher risk of falling.

We advise doing one of the sensation or pain-related tests to corroborate your results in this test.

Single Leg Balance

You can also do this test by yourself. Stand by a wall or chair so you can catch yourself if you need to.

Cross your arms over your chest, look straight ahead of you, and lift one foot off the ground. Start counting the seconds from this moment.

Try to keep this position for as long as possible without losing your balance, moving your lifted leg, shifting your position on the standing leg, or uncrossing your arms.

Try to stay in this position for 40 seconds. If you can do that, try the test with your eyes closed, which will be more difficult but you should be able to stand for 7 to 10 seconds.

If your numbers are far below the averages, you can assume the test is positive. You can do this often, and compare your results to see if your ability is diminishing.

What Should I Do After the Test?

We always recommend doing more than one type of test to confirm potential results. If you’ve done a few tests and they’ve all come back positive, then you can assume that you have neuropathy.

Once you’ve discovered this, it’s a good idea to book an appointment with your doctor and ask about diagnosis, treatment, and future outcomes.

This will help you get a definitive diagnosis. Medication can help to ease the symptoms and your doctor can also offer practical thoughts on how to reduce flare ups.

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