Numbness describes a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of your body. It is often also used to describe other changes in sensation, such as burning or a pins-and-needles feeling. Numbness can occur along a single nerve on one side of the body, or it may occur symmetrically, on both sides of the body. Weakness, which is usually caused by other conditions, is often mistaken for numbness.
Numbness (lost, reduced, or altered sensation) and tingling (a strange itchy sensation) are types of temporary paresthesia. After sitting or standing in a certain position or even wearing tight clothes for too long, these sensations usually occur. This puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels, reducing sensation. Postural habits that put pressure on nerves or reduce blood flow in the lower limbs are the most common cause of temporary numbness in the legs and feet. Many people say their leg has “fallen asleep,” and the medical term is transient (temporary) paresthesia.
Numbness is caused by damage, irritation or compression of nerves. A single nerve branch or several nerves may be affected, as with a slipped disk in the back or carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. Certain diseases such as diabetes, or toxins such as chemotherapy drugs or alcohol, can damage the longer, more-sensitive nerve fibers (such as those going to your feet) and cause numbness. Hand numbness can be caused by damage, irritation, or compression of one of the nerves or a branch of one of the nerves in your arm and wrist. Diseases affecting the peripheral nerves, such as diabetes, also can cause numbness, although with diabetes, similar symptoms usually occur first in your feet.
Uncommonly, numbness may be caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord, although in such cases arm or hand weakness or loss of function also occurs. Numbness alone isn’t usually associated with potentially life-threatening disorders, such as strokes or tumors.
Symptoms for Numbness
Symptoms of poor circulation
The most common symptoms of poor circulation include:
• throbbing or stinging pain in your limbs
• muscle cramps
Each condition that might lead to poor circulation can also cause unique symptoms. For example, people with peripheral artery disease may have erectile dysfunction along with typical pain, numbness, and tingling.
Causes of Numbness
Many things can cause numbness and tingling, including some medications.
Things that we do every day can sometimes cause numbness, including sitting or standing in one position for a long time, sitting with your legs crossed, or falling asleep on your arm.
These are all examples of pressure being put on nerves. Once you move, the numbness will get better.
There are numerous conditions that can cause you to feel numbness and tingling, such as:
• an insect or animal bite
• toxins found in seafood
• abnormal level of vitamin B-12, potassium, calcium, or sodium
• radiation therapy
• medications, especially chemotherapy
Sometimes, a specific injury can produce numbness or tingling, such as an injured nerve in your neck or a herniated disc in your spine.
Blood clots block the flow of blood, either partially or entirely. They can develop almost anywhere in your body, but a blood clot that develops in your arms or legs can lead to circulation problems.
Blood clots can develop for a variety of reasons, and they can be dangerous. If a blood clot in your leg breaks away, it can pass through other parts of your body, including your heart or lungs. It may also lead to a stroke. As a symptom, certain diseases generate numbness or tingling. Examples of these diseases include:
o Raynaud’s Phenomenon
o Multiple Sclerosis
o Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack (Mini Stroke)
o Hardening of the Arteries
o An Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
• Central nervous system disorders that may cause numbness and tingling include:
o Stroke: Sudden numbness, especially on one side of the body, in the arm, leg, or face. It is an early symptom of a stroke.
o Calcium is vital for proper nerve function and blood flow. Hypocalcemia or calcium deficiency can cause numbness and tingle in the fingers.
o Carpal tunnel syndrome in the hands and fingers may also cause numbness, tingling, and pain.
o It occurs when the median nerve, one of the main nerves in the arm, is compressed in the space where it travels through the wrist.
• Panic attacks, or sudden, overwhelming periods of fear and anxiety with no real danger, can cause a variety of symptoms, including numbness or tingling in the hands.
• Toothaches and infections can compress the facial nerves and cause numbness in the face and mouth.
Expect your doctor to request a complete medical history. Be sure to report all symptoms, even if they don’t seem related, as well as any previously diagnosed conditions. Note if you have any recent injuries, infections, or vaccinations.
Your doctor will also need to know any prescribed or over-the-counter medications and supplements you’re taking.
Depending on the findings of a physical exam, your doctor may order additional tests. These may include blood tests, electrolyte level testing, thyroid function testing, toxicology screening, vitamin level testing, and nerve conduction studies. Your doctor may also order a spinal tap (lumbar puncture).
• Treatment for numbness and tingling depends on the reason for your symptom and will focus on resolving any underlying medical conditions.
• If numbness is in a person’s feet and affects their ability to walk, it can help avoid more injury and harm to the feet by wearing well-fitting socks and shoes, particularly while at home.
• Multiple sclerosis (MS)-related numbness is usually relatively harmless and painless. Niacin, a B-complex vitamin, can help reduce inflammation and related numbness.
• In cases of severe or painful numbness, treatment may include a short round of corticosteroids, which also speeds recovery by reducing inflammation.
• Several treatment plans can help reduce or control non-MS-related numbness and tingling, such as:
o Meningitis: Antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and corticosteroids.
o Diabetic neuropathy: Physical activity, healthy diet, following diabetes treatment plans, daily monitoring of changes in the feet, and regular foot exams.
o Carpal tunnel: Wrist bands, over-the-counter pain relievers, nerve gliding exercises, or surgery. Avoid triggering activities.
o Pernicious anemia: Vitamin B12 injections, pills, nasal gels or sprays.