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On Pins And Needles: Why Are You Feeling Numbness In Your Hands?

Dr. Imran Andrabi

3 min read

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Numbness usually results from a lack of blood or nerve supply to a particular body part. In case of numbness in hands, or ‘paresthesia of the fingers’, the vast nerve network that connects highly sensitive touch receptors in the hands to the brain is either compressed or damaged; in whole or in part. This disrupts the sensory (touch) information relay pathway from the hand to the brain, causing a sharp, tingly feeling characteristic of numbness.

However, numbness accompanied by weakness in the arm or hand or difficulty in holding something with the affected hand might indicate problems with the brain and spinal cord.

Medical Conditions That Cause Numbness

Loss of feeling in the hands is a common symptom of the following medical conditions, Say medical professionals:

1- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In this condition, the median nerve that runs from the forearm to the hand is usually pinched at the wrist, manifesting as numbness in the index and middle fingers as well as the thumb, with additional symptoms of swelling and tingling sensations in these fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome is common in regular computer users, particularly those whose wrists are placed over hard surfaces while using a mouse for extended time-periods, and is easily treated by wearing wrist splints while sleeping. However, if left untreated, surgery to de-pinch the compressed nerve may be required.

2- Cervical Radiculopathy

With numbing symptoms similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical radiculopathy results from an inflammation or compression of the radicular nerve originating from the neck. This causes pain that travels from the shoulder to the arm and hand, and is usually felt as a tingling, itchy or prickly sensation. In some cases, the pain may mimic the feeling of a hand left in ice-cold water.

3- Cervical Stenosis

Sleeping with the neck bent at odd angles puts pressure on the relaxed neck muscles, which protect the neck and keep it straight during the day. This then results in hand numbing that can often be reduced by loosely wearing a cervical (neck) collar. Another cause may be arthritis or a disc bulge in the neck that obstructs the nerve pathway. This condition can be diagnosed via a cervical MRI. Nerve compression in the shoulder can also be a sign of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a common affliction in computer users. 

4- Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)

Tingling and numbness in hands are an early sign of this condition, which, as the name suggests, stems from regularly playing sports that require repetitive twisting of the hands, wrist or elbow, such as tennis or squash. This gradually weakens the tendons around the elbow, resulting in extreme elbow and forearm pain. While halting the sport until the pain improves is the usual treatment, a medical examination may be required if the condition returns.

5- Diabetes

Numbness lies among the many symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. While initially affecting the feet, the condition, known as ‘Diabetic Encephalopathy’, leads to serious nerve damage and loss of feeling in both hands and feet, and is a sign of untreated diabetes.

6- Hypothyroidism

Though not an initial symptom, an under-productive thyroid gland can damage the nerves that relay messages from the brain to the spinal and other parts of the body, including the hands. Testing for hypothyroidism is required if numbness is experienced alongside rapid hair loss, weight gain and perpetual feelings of cold.

7- Vitamin B12 Deficiency

A diet deficient in B12 sources, such as beef, fish and eggs, can lead to anemia (fatigue due to underproduction or loss of blood), which is a major cause of nerve damage and numbness. Other vitamins essential for nerve function include Vitamins E, B1, B6 and niacin, although excess B6 has also been linked with hand numbness.

8- Ganglion Cysts

These non-cancerous lumps commonly form over or around joints. While usually self-healing, aspiration (surgical drainage of cyst fluids) might be required if such cysts persist and cause pain and constant numbness.

9- Multiple Sclerosis 

This is an autoimmune diseases which features the immune striking the protective layer around nerve fibers. A continuous attack on the fibers leads to damage. 

The symptoms vary depending on the nerves that are targeted. Numbness in hands is a common symptom in MS; with the face or limbs losing feeling. This numbness is characterized by affecting either the right or left side of the body.  

10- Stage IV HIV

HIV is a virus that affects the body’s defense mechanism. If left untreated, HIV can kill a lot of protective cells that the body cannot protective itself from diseases and infections. The stage IV of the virus is known commonly as AIDS. 

AIDS can lead to nerve damage in the spine and brain. This damage can lead to numbness and loss of feeling in the limbs. 

Numbness of the hands can also present as a symptom of a Stroke or other autoimmune diseases, namely Rheumatoid Arthritis and the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome. In its later stages, Lyme Disease caused by tick bites can also manifest and hand or limb numbness.

While a common occurrence, consult with your doctor immediately if you experience numbness in hands or other symptoms associated with any of the conditions explained above; or book an appointment with a top Spinal Specialist or Neurologist in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad through oladoc.com. Or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your health requirements.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Imran Andrabi - Author Prof. Dr. Syed Imran Hussain Andrabi is a Consultant General and Laparoscopic Surgeon practicing in Lahore. Dr. Andrabi is a foreign-trained, highly skilled, experienced surgeon with a solid professional background and more than 30 publications in international journals.

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