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Why Is Your Arm or Hand Numb?

Reviewed on 9/16/2020

What Causes Arm or Hand Numbness?

Most commonly, arms and hands feel numb temporarily because we’ve slept on them or they have been in an awkward position for a prolonged period. In these cases, the numbness is temporary and normal sensation will return quickly. 

In other cases, arm or hand numbness may be caused by: 

What Symptoms May Accompany Arm or Hand Numbness?

Other symptoms that may accompany arm or hand numbness include:

Carpal tunnel syndrome 

  • Tingling feeling
  • Fingers feel swollen, though they do not appear swollen
  • Feeling the need to “shake” the hand or wrist
  • Inability to distinguish between hot and cold by touch (severe cases)

Pinched nerve 

  • Sharp pain
  • Tingling or "pins and needles" feeling
  • Weakness in the hand
  • Muscle weakness in the arm
  • Frequent feeling that the hand has “fallen asleep”

Migraine with aura

  • Vision problems: seeing spots, zig zags, flashes of light, stars, or temporary vision loss 
    • Some vision symptoms resemble a stroke so see a doctor if any of these occur
  • Tingling sensation in other parts of the body
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty speaking or finding the right word, slurring or mumbling

Diabetes 

  • Tingling or burning
  • Stabbing pains 
  • Increased sensitivity to touch (the weight of clothing or sheets may be painful)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of reflexes, especially in the ankle
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Serious foot problems (ulcers, infections, and bone and joint pain)

Raynaud’s syndrome (also called Raynaud’s phenomenon)

  • Fingers (or toes) become suddenly cold 
  • Skin color changes markedly and may become pale (called a "white attack") or a purple or blue color (called a "blue attack")
  • "Pins and needles" feeling, aching, or clumsiness of the affected hand(s)
  • The skin of the ears, nose, face, knees, and nipples can also be affected, and may become pale or bluish in color after cold exposure
  • Mottling (a bluish discoloration) of the skin of the arms and legs 

Neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS)

Side effects of chemotherapy

  • “Pins and needles” feeling
  • Burning of hands and/or feet 
  • Numbness around mouth 
  • Loss of positional sense (knowing where a body part is without looking)
  • Weakness and cramping or pain in hands 
  • Difficulty picking things up or buttoning clothes

Stroke

A stroke is a medical emergency: if you have any symptoms call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately

  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Problems seeing and speaking
  • Drooping on one side of your face

Heart attack

A heart attack is a medical emergency: if you have any symptoms call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department immediately

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

See a doctor if you have arm or hand numbness and:

  • The numbness comes on suddenly 
  • The numbness spreads quickly
  • You had a recent head injury just prior to the numb arm or hand
  • You have trouble walking
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty thinking or speaking
  • Numbness is accompanied by a severe headache or dizziness
  • Your foot or toes on the same side as the numb arm or hand are also numb
  • You have chest pain, shortness of breath, and break out in a cold sweat

QUESTION

What is a stroke? See Answer

What Is the Treatment for Arm or Hand Numbness?

Treatment for arm or hand numbness depends on the cause. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome 

  • Splinting
  • Resting the hand
  • Ice packs
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonprescription pain relievers for pain
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone) or lidocaine injected directly into the wrist or taken orally (in the case of prednisone) 
  • Yoga can reduce pain and improve grip 
  • Surgery 

Pinched nerve

Migraine with aura

Diabetes 

  • Keep blood sugar levels well managed
  • Medications to relieve pain and reduce burning, numbness, and tingling 

Raynaud's phenomenon 

Neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS)

  • Medications to reduce the severity and frequency of relapses
  • High dose corticosteroids for attacks
  • Rehabilitation for fitness and energy levels

Side effects of chemotherapy

  • Medications for pain relief
  • It may take up to 2 years after completion of chemotherapy for symptoms to go away 

Stroke 

  • Tissue plasminogen activator – r-tPA (alteplase)
  • Mechanical thrombectomy
  • Endovascular catheter

Heart attack

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Reviewed on 9/16/2020
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