What Causes Numbness?
Crossing your legs, sitting in one position for too long, or sleeping on your arm can all cause numbness. Generally, this is temporary and clears quickly. Chronic numbness may be a sign of a more serious condition, however.
This article explains common causes of numbness and when to contact a doctor.
This numbness may feel like:
- loss of, diminished, or altered sensation
- decreased feeling when touching something
- one leg feeling different from the other
- pins and needles sensation
There are no medications to relieve the numbness associated with MS. However, a new onset of severe numbness can be a sign of an MS relapse. In these cases, your doctor may recommend a short dose of corticosteroids to help aid in recovery.
Peripheral neuropathy is common in people with diabetes. Over time, high levels of glucose and fat in the blood cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels. Peripheral neuropathy typically affects the feet and legs. Sometimes, it can also affect the arms and hands.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- pins and needles sensation
Your doctor may recommend medications to help manage the pain. These may include:
- creams, patches, or sprays, such as lidocaine
Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to improve strength and balance.
A stroke occurs when something blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel bursts in the brain. Strokes can cause lasting damage. Acting fast and getting treatment right away is important.
Treatment for a stroke is time sensitive. For an ischemic stroke, receiving medication within 3 hours of the first symptoms can break up blood clots. However, many people do not receive treatment in time. A doctor may also use blood thinners or other medications to treat the stroke.
Recovery from a stroke may include:
- speech therapy
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
Stroke Signs and Symptoms
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke. If you or someone near you shows any signs of a stroke, contact emergency services right away.
Signs of a stroke include:
- Sudden weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially only on one side of your body.
- Sudden confusion, difficulty understanding speech, or difficulty speaking.
- Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Call 911 immediately if you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else.
Sciatica is not a specific diagnosis but a broad term that describes nerve pain. Sciatic pain happens when the nerve root in your lumbar spine is compressed. A condition such as a herniated disk or spinal stenosis is the actual cause of the sciatic pain. The condition causing the pain is the diagnosis your doctor will give.
Symptoms of sciatica may include:
- numbness or weakness in your leg
- burning or tingling sensation down your leg
- sharp or cramping pain
- pain that worsens when you sneeze, cough, or move
Sciatica often goes away on its own with rest. Other home treatments for sciatica include:
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- applying heat or cold to the painful area
- continuing to move about; motion can help reduce inflammation
- doing light stretches as soon as you are able
In severe cases, treatment of sciatica may require surgery.
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a condition where the fingers turn different colors because of cold or stress. This can also affect the toes, though this is much rarer.
- fingers that turn white, blue, or red
- pins and needles sensation
Raynaud’s phenomenon is typically treated with lifestyle modifications such as keeping your hands and core body warm. Sometimes, medications like blood pressure medications are required to help increase blood flow.
When brain tumors are small, you may not experience any symptoms. However, as they grow, brain tumors can cause symptoms including:
- numbness, weakness, or loss of movement in one part of the body or on one side
- difficulty speaking, thinking, or finding words
- changes in personality or behavior
- dizziness or issues with balance
- memory loss
- fatigue or muscle weakness
- issues with hearing, seeing, or smelling
- confusion or disorientation
- unexplained nausea or vomiting
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when one of the major nerves in the hand is compressed as it runs through the wrist. Carpal tunnel can worsen over time. Left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the hand.
Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- numbness, tingling, or burning pain, primarily in the thumb, index, or ring finger
- shock-like sensations that radiate through the thumb and first three fingers
- pain or tingling that can travel through the arm and shoulder
- weakness in the hand that results in dropping things
Nonsurgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome typically includes:
- taking NSAIDs
- bracing or splinting the wrist
- changing your activity
- performing nerve gliding exercises
- receiving steroid injections
If nonsurgical treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend surgery.
There are many other conditions and factors that can cause numbness. These include:
- sitting in one position or with your legs crossed for too long
- sleeping on your arm
- abscess near the spinal cord
- spinal stenosis
- alcohol use disorder
- vitamin deficiencies, such as B12, folate, and D
- lead and mercury toxicity
Contact your doctor if you experience unexplained numbness or tingling that does not go away. Contact emergency services if you notice signs of a stroke, like numbness on one side of your body or difficulty speaking.
Other signs you should contact your doctor include:
- numbness that comes on suddenly
- numbness or weakness that spreads rapidly through your body
- difficulty breathing
- numbness or weakness that causes issues with bladder or bowel control
- loss of sensation in your face or torso
- having a seizure, and you have never had one before
There are many possible causes of numbness. These include sitting in one position or crossing your legs too long, or sleeping on your arm. In these instances, the numbness typically goes away quickly once the pressure is off the area.
Chronic numbness that does not go away may be a sign of another condition, such as MS, diabetes, and stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency. If you notice signs of a stroke in yourself or someone near you, contact emergency services right away.
Treatment for numbness depends on the underlying cause. Speak with your doctor about treatment options.