If you’ve ever experienced tingling and numbness in your hands and feet (or wrists and elbows), you know it feels a lot worse than it sounds. There are many reasons you could be having these sensations. It’s important to identify the potential causes. This is especially true if you’re a chronic pain sufferer with an injury or autoimmune disease.
Not all tingling indicates a serious health problem. You may get nerve pain or experience a lack in nerve function that feels like pins and needles. It may subside when you start moving that limb. That’s likely due to restricted blood flow. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary.
You may have had your foot fall asleep before. That happens when we unknowingly sit or sleep in an odd position. It also resolves as soon as pressure is removed from the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow normally to the extremities.
If you experience unexplainable and frequent hand and leg numbness and/or tingling in legs or feet, here’s our guide for determining your next steps. Also, we’ll let you know when and why it’s time to worry.
Identifying the sensations
Tingling in hands or tingling in your feet can feel like constant pinpricks. It’s like a low humming of electricity or a constant vibration that’s impossible to ignore. Some may describe it as a zapping sensation that can shift from bearable to painful.
It can be very aggravating and easily disrupt your normal day-to-day activities. We instinctively shake our extremities – wiggle and move our toes or fingers – in hopes if increasing circulation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work.
Numbness is a more complex feeling. It can be far more concerning as well. If you begin to not feel your hands or feet or feel as though you can’t control them, that’s numbness. At the height of my numbness, I could touch my foot and my calf and not feel my own hand on my own skin.
If you experience numbness for more than a day or two, don’t ignore it. Talk to your healthcare team. At a minimum, you may have suffered nerve damage. Your body could be on the brink of a much more serious problem like:
- a slipped or herniated dis
- a blood clot
- signs of infection from a previous injury or illness
- a decline in health due to a worsening existing condition
What tingling means
Tingling is not as serious as numbness. In fact, many of the conditions that cause tingling are temporary. However, pay careful attention if tingling is associated with pain.
If you experience tingling without pain or numbness, there can be a variety of explanations. Since self-diagnosis is not a good idea, let your doctor run tests to determine your next steps. She will know what to look for and can administer specific tests to identify the underlying cause.
Adding pain to the equation
Pain combined with tingling and/or numbness is a much more serious matter. Think of it as a warning sign that your body is breaking down in some way. If the pain is severe or chronic, you could have nerve damage that’s preventing your normal body function.
It could be a sign of infection, which could stem from bacterial or viral sources. An undiagnosed disease is another possibility. Regardless, there are many potential issues, so a visit to the doctor in a necessity.
Why numbness matters
Occasional numbness by itself may not be serious, because it’s rarely a result of brain and spinal cord problems, but numbness combined with tingling or pain can indicate a more serious health issue. Minor bruises or aches or bodily irritations typically don’t cause an extended period of numbness.
Diseases such as diabetes may be the more likely cause. In the most extreme instances, you may suffer issues with your central nervous system.
A visit to the doctor is a must if you experience numbness – especially combined with tingling and pain – in your hands or feet. Your doctor may need to perform blood tests as well as a physical exam to determine the cause.
It starts with tingling and numbness
The thing about tingling and numbness in hands and feet – with or without the addition of pain – is it’s often the first symptom for a variety of conditions, which leads to a diagnosis. It’s your body’s way of getting your attention to let you know something is definitely wrong.
Tingling and numbness are the main indicators of degenerative spinal conditions like osteoarthritis, which mainly “refers to the culmination of all the wear and tear on the spine and its structures throughout one’s lifetime,” says Neel Anand, MD, orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal deformity correction at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
This degenerative condition is also referred to as spinal stenosis. People suffering with spinal stenosis begin to feel symptoms as their spine worsens. “When stenosis is present in the cervical spine or neck,” Anand continued, “the symptoms can include neck pain, numbness and tingling in the arm, hand or fingers on the affected side.”
Similarly, many types of spinal injuries trigger tingling and/or numbness. These include:
- bulging discs
- herniated discs
- spinal tumors
- other spinal injuries
A personal testimony of pain
Speaking from personal experience, I made the mistake of ignoring the unexplainable tingling and numbness in my left foot. It progressively got worse and eventually, the pain, numbness and tingling moved up my foot and into my left leg. I’ll never know if catching it sooner would’ve prevented my herniated L5. My advice for anyone in a similar situation is go to the doctor sooner rather than later.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that often reveals itself through numb feelings in the hands or feet. The same symptom of numbness tends to present itself in multiple sclerosis, a chronic, progressive disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
If you have diabetes, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet can be a sign of diabetic neuropathy, a serious side effect of type 1 and type 2 diabetes that can cause long-term nerve damage. Similarly, if you experience pain, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the hands or feet, that can be a sign of kidney disease or worse, kidney failure.
Additional causes of tingling and numbness
Other potential and “sneaky” triggers that cause tingling and numbness are things like vitamin deficiencies.
“Given the array of symptoms [B12 deficiency symptoms] can cause,” says Patrick J. Skerrett, former editor of the Harvard Health blog, “the condition can be overlooked or confused with something else. Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms may include:
- strange sensations, numbness, or tingling in the hands, legs or feet
- difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems)
- a swollen, inflamed tongue
- difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties) or memory loss
Luckily vitamin deficiencies are treatable. The key is to identify the condition quickly.
Prolonged tingling and numbness can be serious concerns. If you suffer from either symptom, please talk to your doctor immediately. She will be able to identify the severity of the problem and offer the best course for treatment.
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