Ever experience numb hands or the feeling of being pricked with pins and needles. Normally, this isn’t a condition to worry about. But what happens if you experience it frequently?
In the following article, we’ll be discussing the various causes of this sensation (or lack thereof). And while you’re probably fine not to worry, don’t discount it too quickly. It can be symptomatic of a more serious condition.
How Numbness Forms
There are many conditions that could be causing your numb hands. At the heart of them, however, are three central causes. They are as follows.
Hand doctors often will check for this first when treating you for conditions like ganglion cysts or carpal tunnel syndrome. We’ll delve into these more in-depth later.
Another cause of numbness in the hand or thumbs is a chronic condition such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. These conditions may attack the nerves directly, resulting in an ongoing numbness.
Nervous System Injuries or Conditions
Traumatic injuries (i.e., accidents, assaults) may lead to hand numbness. Some of these may be able to be repaired surgically. Others through therapy and medication.
Now that we’ve touched on the overarching causes of numbness in the hand, let’s dig a little further. There are several probable causes that you’ll want to consider.
Save the diagnosis part for a doctor. But do familiarize yourself with the ancillary symptoms so you can have a better idea of what you may be up against. Let’s have a look at each of these.
1. Peripheral Neuropathy
Neuropathy is when you experience damage to nerves directly associated with the brain or spinal cord. Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerves outside of these areas. It can happen through viral infection, traumatic injury, problems with your metabolism, or exposure to certain toxins.
The result of peripheral neuropathy is usually hand numbness, a “pin-prick” feeling on the hands or feet, or difficulty gripping. These sensations may target the whole hand or parts of it, like the fingers.
Strokes can be debilitating or even lethal. They occur when blood flow from the brain faces a sudden blockage. While the interruption is abrupt, the symptoms can manifest over time.
Common warning signs include numbness in the face or one of your “pillar” appendages, such as the arm or leg. It also can include hand numbness as well as the following:
- Vision problems (one or both eyes)
- Sudden onset headaches
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Trouble speaking
- Trouble understanding when others speak
If one or more of these persist, get to a doctor right away. Stroke is one of the top five leading causes of death, so you can’t afford to ignore the signs.
3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome has long been a condition associated with females, likely due to career choice. However, our push towards technology is gradually increasing the number of male patients.
One specific area where it shows up in men and women is golfing, due to the repetitive strain placed on the hand and wrists. This results in tingling, numbness, or even aching. Options for dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome run the gamut from surgical to wearing a brace or support.
Finding more ways to get the keyboard out of your life helps as well. You might not be able to ditch it altogether, but taking more time away from the computer and using dictation software in place of typing can ease the burden.
4. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Sometimes carpal tunnel syndrome can be mistaken for cubital tunnel syndrome. With carpal tunnel, the median nerve is stressed by some form of persistent pressure or strain. Cubital is similar but instead targets the ulnar nerve in the hand.
Smartphone use can contribute greatly to both this and carpal tunnel syndrome. The ulnar nerve is connected to the humerus, or “funny bone.” Stress or pressure on that nerve may manifest in symptoms that include the following:
- Tingling in the ring finger
- Loose grip
- Sharp or hollow feelings of pain in the forearm
Typically the sensation will go away without any extra effort. You may have to refrain from activities that place a heavy strain on your elbow for a while though.
We won’t spend a long time on this one since frostbite occurs due to exposure to the elements and there are very few cases of it each year. You’ll know this sensation when you feel it.
If you are affected by frostbite, seek emergency care immediately. If left too long untreated, it could require amputation. It will generally affect the smallest parts of your body, which would include the fingers.
6. Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is most commonly transmitted through tick bites. It’s actually a bacterial infection from the bite that causes the most damage. Full-blown Lyme disease may include the following:
- Stiffness of the neck
- Migraine-level headaches
- An unshakeable feeling of exhaustion
- Head-to-toe aching
In the early stages and throughout the three stages of the condition, you’re likely to experience hand numbness as well. Pay attention to these symptoms, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors or were in a heavily-wooded area prior to symptoms. Seek treatment from a medical professional at once.
7. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Though far less common, some hand numbness can come as the result of sexually transmitted disease, particularly syphilis. Syphilis has four stages, according to the Centers for Disease Control. These include primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.
When the disease spreads to the brain and nervous system resulting in “neurosyphilis”, numbness and nerve damage can start to occur. Thankfully, syphilis can be cured through antibiotics but that doesn’t mean life will go back to normal.
Some patients may still experience conditions like hand numbness for the rest of their lives after their encounter with it. Check out more facts on this disease here.
8. Ganglion Cyst
The Ganglion cyst is a lump filled with a jelly-like material. They vary in size and can be found on the tendons or joints of your hands and wrists.
Don’t worry. These are not cancerous. However, they can cause a great deal of pain or numbness depending on where they are in relation to nerves.
If you experience numbness that correlates with the formation of a lump in this general region, give it a little time. It may go away on its own. If the pain and lump persist, however, see a doctor about the possibility of surgical removal.
9. Vitamin B12 Issues
A shortage in Vitamin B12 creates neurological changes that, if left untreated, can lead to tingling and numbness throughout the nervous system. Treating B12 shortage isn’t as simple as eating more foods that include it or taking an over-the-counter supplement.
It will require a diagnosis from a medical professional, who will reach his or her conclusion after imaging and lab tests. Follow the advice of your doctor on what to eat, which supplements to take, and whether B12 shots are necessary for ongoing support.
Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels elevate to a degree that’s beyond your body’s normal range of control. Many who experience it also experience something called diabetic neuropathy in which nerves sending signals from the hands and feet become damaged and result in numbness and tingling.
The condition has no cure. But it can be controlled through medications and keeping your blood sugar levels under control via diet and exercise. Also, once you have been diagnosed with diabetes, consult with your doctor frequently to make sure your condition is staying under control.
11. Multiple Sclerosis
Each nerve cell in your brain and spinal cord has a protective covering that can be worn down and diminished through a condition known as multiple sclerosis. As this happens, so, too, does your cells’ ability to communicate with the central nervous system. Common symptoms of MS include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Sexual dysfunction
It also produces tingling or numbness sensations in various parts of the body. This includes the hands and feet.
Heavy consumption of alcohol temporarily affects the brain and motor skills. With time and addiction, however, it can lead to longer-term neurological changes as well as damage to internal organs such as the heart and liver.
Cessation of drinking is necessary but not always practical. Treating alcoholism goes beyond simply putting down the bottle. It also may require therapy and lifestyle changes, to include dietary and social behaviors.
13. Other Treatments
Chemotherapy has been known to cause a number of side effects in addition to the obvious pain and sluggishness. One of the more common symptoms is that of tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.
This phenomenon also has appeared in treatments for HIV. Offending drugs include didanosine, zalcitabine, and stavudine.
What can be done if you find yourself experiencing numb hands as a result of medical treatment? Your first step is to tell your doctor. He may be able to prescribe an alternative medication or make modifications to the existing treatment.
14. Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries will understandably cause sensations of numbness and tingling. This isn’t just true of the hands and feet either. Unfortunately, we haven’t reached a point where SCIs can be completely cured by medical science.
However, there are treatments that show promise. Hydrotherapy, or exercising while submerged in water or swimming pools, is one such option. Consider mechanical ventilation as well.
This non-invasive treatment relies on mechanical or artificial means for assistance with breathing, thus placing less pressure on the parts of the spinal cord involved in the respiratory process. You will commonly see it employed after a spinal cord surgery to help with recovery.
Last but not least, medicines can help. These will mainly be in the areas of blood pressure control, steroids, and muscle relaxants.
15. Brachial Plexus Injury
Your brachial plexus nerves connect the spinal cord to your shoulder. Damage to these nerves, whether through tearing, compression, or stretching, can delay signals getting to your hands.
With the delay, feelings of numbness or tingling can set in. The nerves may heal up in time with less serious injuries. But if there’s any ripping or tearing, a surgery likely will be needed.
You commonly see brachial plexus injuries arise in athletes of high-impact sports, auto crash victims, or workplace injuries involving trips and falls.
Steps to Take If Problems Persist
Problems of hand numbness that persist should be addressed right away. We can’t emphasize that enough. So set your appointment with a doctor and take the following steps.
Give an Overview of Symptoms
Before ever stepping into the doctor’s office, outline all of the symptoms you’re experiencing. Revisit the list regularly until you can recite it with ease when your doctor asks why you set the appointment.
You are your best healthcare advocate. So don’t let anyone dismiss your fears or concerns. This is your opportunity to lay it all out on the table.
Answer Questions to the Best of Your Abilities
The more complete you are sharing your symptoms, the easier it’ll be for your doctor to know which follow-up questions to ask. Don’t be defensive or make up your mind ahead of time.
They’re trying to narrow down the issue. And as you can see from the list above, there are a number of possibilities as to what that issue could be.
Submit to Testing
Your doctor may want to do stress tests, X-rays, scans, or cardiograms. Most of the time the issue with hand numbness isn’t serious. But with so many possibilities, it’s important to rule out the big things first.
See a Referral If Necessary
Primary care physicians (PCPs) may not be capable of providing the treatment and care your condition needs. If they recommend a referral or two, try for the first available. For more serious conditions, you’ll need to go to the emergency room.
Consider Getting a Second Opinion
If you feel dismissed by your doctor or you’re just not confident in his diagnosis, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for a second opinion. Doctors know more about medicine, but you know more about you. Don’t discount what you know.
Numb Hands May Not Be Cause for Alarm
However, you do need to get to the bottom of what’s causing your numb hands. That means being aware of the possibilities, advocating for your own health, and seeing a doctor right away. And if carpal tunnel syndrome is the culprit, contact us today about your options!