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

SLIDESHOW

Stroke Causes, Symptoms, and Recovery See Slideshow

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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