Is this common?
The feeling is usually painless, but it can be noticeable. It’s a tingling or numbness similar to the sensation that comes when you hit your “funny bone.” When this happens to your arm or other body part, your limb is often said to have “fallen asleep.” This can happen at any time, day or night.
This isn’t an uncommon feeling. Most people experience it at one time or another. Sometimes, though, the sensation may linger for an unexpected period of time or occur alongside other symptoms. If this happens, you should consult your doctor. This sensation may be an indicator of an underlying medical concern.
Learn more about why this feeling happens, and what, if anything, you can do about it.
What causes this sensation?
This pins and needles sensation is known as paresthesia. Most of the time, the cause is simple. It may happen if you’ve lain on your arm or otherwise put pressure on it. This prevents the blood from flowing correctly to your nerves.
Poor positioning may also lead to pressure being placed directly on a nerve. The nerves react to the lack of blood flow or pinching by causing momentary tingling.
If you wake up with this feeling, readjust to relieve this pressure. Your arm will generally “wake up,” and the tingling will stop.
More chronic paresthesia may be a sign of an underlying medical issue. Possible conditions might include:
Vitamin B deficiency
There are many types of vitamin B, and they all help maintain cell health and keep you energized. Although many people get enough B vitamins through their diet, some people may also need to take supplements to meet their recommended daily amount.
If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B, you may experience paresthesia. This is most common among:
- older adults
- people who drink alcohol excessively
- people with pernicious anemia
Fluid retention can be caused by a number of things, including high salt intake and fluctuating hormone levels during menstruation. This can cause swelling to occur throughout the body or it can also be localized in certain body parts. Sometimes this swelling can disrupt circulation and trigger a tingling sensation in the affected area.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
If the numbness or tingling is also affecting your hand, it may be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. This happens when the median nerve is compressed or pinched.
Making the same motions repeatedly, such as typing on a keyboard or working with machinery, can trigger it.
If you have diabetes and are experiencing paresthesia regularly, it may be caused by nerve damage. This damage is called peripheral neuropathy, and is caused by persistently high blood sugar levels.
Conditions affecting the central nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis and stroke, can also cause paresthesia. Tumors or growths, particularly those located in the brain or spine, may also trigger it.
When should I see a doctor?
You should consult your doctor if this sensation persists beyond a brief period of readjustment, or if it’s causing significant pain or discomfort.
If you’re experiencing other symptoms along with paresthesia, you should speak with your doctor right away. These symptoms may be caused by a more serious condition.
Paresthesia that happens along with any of the following symptoms requires urgent medical attention:
- muscle weakness
- intense pain
- vision problems or vision loss
- difficulties with speech
- difficulties with coordination
- extreme dizziness
How is paresthesia treated?
If your paresthesia is infrequent, you may not need to undergo any treatment. Repositioning yourself to release pressure on the nerve may be enough to relieve any tingling or numbness that you’re experiencing.
If you experience this pins and needles sensation regularly, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. Your doctor will work with you to determine the cause of your paresthesia and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
For example, if your doctor finds that you have carpal tunnel syndrome, they may recommend a wrap for wrist support and specific wrist exercises to soothe the nerve. In more severe cases, cortisone shots or surgery may be needed.
The bottom line
Often this feeling will go away on its own, or as the result of a minor readjustment in how you’re positioning your body.
If the issue persists, jot down when it happens, how long it lasts, and whether you’re experiencing any other symptoms. This can help your doctor determine whether a pinched nerve, a neurological issue, or other cause is behind your symptoms.
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