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What is finger numbness?
Finger numbness can cause tingling and a prickling feeling, as if someone were lightly touching your fingers with a needle. Sometimes the sensation can feel slightly burning. Finger numbness may affect your ability to pick things up. And you may feel clumsy, or like you’ve lost strength in your hands.
Finger numbness can range from a symptom that occurs occasionally to something that impairs your ability to perform daily tasks. But whatever your symptoms, noninvasive treatments are often available.
The nerves in your body are responsible for transmitting messages to and from your brain. If the nerves are compressed, damaged, or irritated, numbness can occur. Examples of conditions known to cause finger numbness include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that provides feeling to your hand becomes pinched or obstructed. This condition often causes numbness in the thumb and index and middle fingers.
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve that leaves your neck becomes inflamed or compressed. This condition can cause numbness like carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s also known as a pinched nerve.
A condition called diabetic neuropathy can lead to nerve damage in the feet and hands. You will usually first experience numbness in the feet.
Raynaud’s disease causes the small arteries in your fingers to spasm, or open and close very fast. This can cause numbness and affect your circulation.
Ulnar nerve entrapment
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve in the arm, but ulnar nerve entrapment affects the ulnar nerve that runs on the little finger’s side of the arm. This most commonly causes numbness in the pinkie and ring fingers.
Less common causes of finger numbness can include:
Sometimes tingling and numbness can be symptoms of a medical emergency. This is true when a person is experiencing a stroke, which is when a blood clot or bleeding affects the brain. If you have any of the following symptoms, get medical help immediately:
- difficulty breathing
- hand or finger numbness
- a severe headache
- slurred speech
- sudden weakness (asthenia) or paralysis
If your symptoms start to occur regularly, interfere with your daily activities, or cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort, see your doctor.
Your doctor will start diagnosing your finger numbness by taking a medical history and examining your arm, hand, and finger. In some cases, your doctor may recommend you see a medical specialist, such as an orthopedic doctor who specializes in caring for hands, or a neurologist who can test your nerve function.
Doctors commonly order an MRI when a person has finger numbness. This scan helps doctors see areas where bones in the following locations may have slipped out of place:
Bones that slip out of place can cause compression on your nerves.
Blood tests may also help a doctor diagnose conditions that cause finger numbness, such as RA or vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medication to reduce inflammation. Examples include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
In rare instances, your doctor may recommend more invasive treatments if OTC options don’t work. Steroid injections can help relieve inflammation.
Surgery may decrease the nerve damage, or remove or reduce bones that are pressing on the nerve. These procedures include:
- cubital tunnel release
- ulnar nerve anterior transposition
- medial epicondylectomy
Resting your hand and wrist is usually one of the best ways to reduce inflammation when you’re at home. You can also apply ice to the affected area.
Exercises to stretch the hand and wrist can also reduce discomfort. Examples include:
- stretching out your fingers as wide as you can and holding the position for about 10 seconds
- moving your hands around in a clockwise direction about 10 times, then reversing the direction to reduce muscle tension
- rolling your shoulders backward five times, and then forward five times to keep them relaxed
Repeat these exercises throughout the day to reduce tension in your muscles.
Several causes associated with finger numbness are due to overuse injuries. These occur when a person engages in repetitive motions that can irritate or damage the nerves and cause numbness.
Ways to avoid repetitive motion injuries include:
- practicing good posture and form when using a tool, keyboard, or other device that can result in repetitive motion injuries
- taking a break from your activity every 30 to 60 minutes
- stretching the muscles you’re using to reduce tension
- purchasing ergonomic or supportive devices, such as a wrist brace or wrist rest for a keyboard
Finger numbness is usually treatable if it isn’t accompanied by symptoms that require emergency medical attention. Rest can help reduce overuse injuries. A doctor can also recommend more specific medical treatments depending on your condition’s underlying cause.
You can connect to a physician in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.
Usually, the earlier you treat your finger numbness, the less likely the symptoms will be permanent. It’s important not to ignore your symptoms.