Finger numbness can be caused by pinched or injured nerves, carpal tunnel, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Finger numbness can also be a sign of more severe conditions, such as stroke.
Finger numbness is a partial or total loss of sensation in your fingers.
Numb fingers can cause tingling and a prickling feeling, as if someone were lightly touching your fingers with a needle. Sometimes the sensation can feel like burning.
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.
Some conditions known to cause finger numbness include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when one of the main nerves that provides feeling to your hand becomes pinched or obstructed. Repetitive motion, like using hand tools or typing on a keyboard, can cause it.
Carpal tunnel syndrome typically causes numbness in the thumb and index and middle fingers. You may also experience tingling and pain. Symptoms are often worse at night.
Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve that leaves your neck becomes inflamed or compressed. This condition can cause numbness, tingling, and clumsiness in your hands. It’s also known as a pinched nerve.
Numbness is usually noticed first in the feet and legs, but can also affect the hands and arms. Diabetic neuropathy can also cause pain and weakness in these areas.
Raynaud’s disease causes the small arteries in your fingers to spasm. When arteries spasm, they become narrower and tighter. This can affect your circulation, causing numbness if the nerves in your fingers don’t receive enough blood.
Cold temperatures and emotional distress can trigger these spasms. Fingers that are affected may look pale or bluish during an episode, which usually lasts about 20 minutes.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes swelling, tenderness, and pain in the joints. This condition can also lead to tingling, numbness, and burning in the hands. Usually, both sides of the body are affected.
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 usually causes numbness in the pinky and ring fingers.
In some cases, you might notice an aching pain on the inside of your elbow.
Other, less common causes of finger numbness include:
- Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can be spread by infected ticks
- syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can affect your nervous system
- HIV, a viral infection that can cause nerve damage
- Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, a bacterial infection that affects the skin, nerves, and muscles
Conditions that affect blood vessels or nerves
- amyloidosis, a rare condition that causes amyloid protein to build up in the organs and tissues of the body
- Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder affecting part of the nervous system, usually triggered by an infection
- multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that damages the protective coating around nerve cells
- Sjögren’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that sometimes causes numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- vasculitis, a rare condition that involves inflammation of the blood vessels
- fibromyalgia, a long-term condition causing pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues
- thoracic outlet syndrome, a group of conditions that develop because of compression in the neck, affecting nerves and blood vessels that go to the arm
- stroke, a medical emergency when blood flow to your brain is interrupted
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
- sudden numbness or weakness in your arm, face, or leg, especially on only one side of the body
- a severe headache with no known cause
- difficulty speaking
- sudden weakness (asthenia) or paralysis
- difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
Schedule a visit with a doctor if your finger numbness starts to occur regularly, interferes with your daily activities, or causes pain and discomfort.
A doctor will start to diagnose your finger numbness by taking your medical history and examining your arm, hand, and finger. In some cases, they may recommend you see a medical specialist, such as an orthopedic doctor who specializes in caring for hands, or a neurologist.
If more information is needed to determine why you have finger numbness, your doctor might order additional tests. For example, an electrodiagnostic test is used to assess nerve function. An X-ray can help your doctor see areas where bones in the following locations may have slipped out of place:
Bones that slip out of place can cause compression or pinching on your nerves. In some cases, an MRI test or ultrasound may also help your doctor see whether a nerve is being pinched.
Blood tests may also be used to diagnose conditions that cause finger numbness, such as rheumatoid arthritis or vitamin B12 deficiency.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medication to reduce inflammation. Examples include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
Resting your hand and wrist can help reduce inflammation when you’re at home. You can also apply ice to the affected area.
If other treatments aren’t helping, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to relieve inflammation.
Surgical treatments are also available. Surgery can be used to remove or repair damaged nerves, or to stop bones from pressing on the nerve. These procedures include:
- cubital tunnel release
- ulnar nerve anterior transposition
- medial epicondylectomy
Stretches for finger numbness
- 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
If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may recommend specific exercises.
Talk with your doctor before trying any new exercises or stretches.
Overuse injuries are known to cause some types of finger numbness. Overuse injuries 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
How do I get rid of numbness in my fingers?
Because finger numbness can have many different causes, there’s no single treatment that will work for every situation.
If your hand “falls asleep” because you put pressure on the nerve without realizing it, the feeling will go away once you change positions.
If you have numbness in your fingers often, or the numbness doesn’t go away, call a doctor. Lifestyle adjustments or medical treatment can often improve your symptoms.
If an underlying condition is causing finger numbness, treating it may make the problem go away. In some cases, nerve damage can’t be reversed.
Is numbness in fingers a symptom of stroke?
Stroke symptoms usually come on suddenly. Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body, is a symptom of stroke. The numbness is usually in the face, arm, or leg.
If you have sudden numbness that doesn’t seem to have a logical reason, it could be a symptom of stroke.
Other signs and symptoms of stroke include sudden:
- confusion, difficulty talking, or difficulty understanding speech
- trouble with seeing in one or both eyes
- difficulty with walking or coordination, loss of balance, or dizziness
- severe headache that doesn’t have a known cause
Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 or local emergency services, or visit the nearest emergency room if you suspect that you are having a stroke.
When should I be concerned about numbness in my fingers?
Most people will experience finger numbness at one time or another. Some causes of finger numbness are benign, while others are more serious. Noninvasive treatments can often help, so learning why you have finger numbness is the best way to start to manage it.
Some reasons to contact a doctor about finger numbness include numbness that:
- happens repeatedly
- doesn’t go away
- is accompanied by pain, loss of sensation, or visible changes to your hand or arm
- spreads beyond your fingers
- usually happens in the same finger or set of fingers
- is associated with repetitive motion tasks
Rarely, finger numbness can be a symptom of stroke, which is a life threatening condition requiring immediate emergency care.
Numbness associated with stroke usually starts suddenly and happens in the face, arm, or leg. The numbness is often on only one side of the body.
Finger numbness is often treatable. Rest can help reduce overuse injuries. A doctor can also recommend more specific medical treatments depending on the underlying cause of the numbness.
Usually, the earlier you treat your finger numbness, the less likely the symptoms will be permanent. It’s important not to ignore your symptoms.