Do you ever notice a numb, burning, or tingling feeling in certain parts of your body? Doctors call this pins and needles sensation “paresthesia.”
It happens when a nerve is irritated and sends out extra signals. Some people describe paresthesia as uncomfortable or painful. You may experience these sensations in the hands, arms, legs, feet, or other areas.
Paresthesia can happen temporarily when a body part “falls asleep.” Or, it can be a permanent problem. In some cases, it’s a symptom of a serious medical condition.
The pins and needles feeling is a sign that a nerve is aggravated in some way and is sending out more signals than usual.
If prolonged pressure is placed on a nerve, it causes a roadblock, which means it can’t get the oxygen and energy it needs to send signals to your brain that normally transmit feeling.
Most people have experienced temporary paresthesia at some point. It can happen when your legs are crossed for too long or you fall asleep with your arm placed under your head.
The continuous pressure on a nerve causes the pins and needles sensations. Once the pressure is lessened, the feeling goes away.
Paresthesia that’s chronic, or lasts a long time, may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Some simple techniques may help relieve temporary pins and needles. Here are 5 steps to try:
1. Take the pressure off
Taking pressure off of the affected nerve allows it to regain normal function.
Nerves take in oxygen, so a healthy blood supply is important. Try freeing up the limb that’s bothering you by making sure nothing is holding it down or putting pressure on it. This might mean uncrossing your legs or avoiding leaning on one arm.
2. Move around
Moving around could improve circulation and relieve the uncomfortable sensations you’re experiencing.
As blood flow starts to improve, it may feel a little warmer and fairly prickly for a few minutes.
3. Clench and unclench your fists
If the pins and needles sensation is affecting your hands, try clenching and then unclenching your fists. This motion can quickly get blood flowing and ease the nerves.
4. Wiggle your toes
If the pins and needles sensation is affecting your feet, try wiggling your toes. This can get your blood moving and help improve circulation, which could stop the uncomfortable sensations.
5. Rock your head side to side
If the pins and needles sensation is affecting your arms, gently rocking your head may help relieve compression around the nerves in your neck. This could help sensations in your arms subside.
The following approaches may help prevent pins and needles sensations from happening before they start:
Get a massage
A massage can lessen muscle tension and encourage better blood flow. Some people report improvement in paresthesia symptoms after receiving a massage.
Try yoga or meditation
Deep breathing exercises, which are performed during yoga or meditation sessions, can help you relax and focus less on painful sensations.
Improving your flexibility might also prevent your limbs from falling asleep in certain positions.
Heat can sometimes boost sensations and worsen pain. Try to avoid taking very hot showers or baths. If you go out in hot weather, consider wearing a hat or cooling vest.
Check your shoes
If you experience numbness or tingling in your foot, it could be caused by poorly-fitted shoes. Stuffing your foot into a narrow or small shoe can affect circulation and nerve flow.
Make sure you have enough room to wiggle your toes, and pick a shoe that supports your arches, especially if you stand or walk a lot. You also might want to make sure your laces aren’t tied too tightly.
Wear pressure stockings or gloves
Pressure stockings or gloves could trick your brain into interpreting the sensation as pressure rather than pain. Most drugstores sell these accessories.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep can enhance pain perception. Be sure to get enough rest each night.
Occasional bouts of pins and needles usually aren’t a cause for concern. But, if you’ve tried home remedies and your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, you should see your doctor.
Chronic paresthesia could be triggered by nerve, spinal cord, or brain damage. It can also be caused by the following conditions:
- stroke or mini strokes
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- transverse myelitis (inflammation of the spinal cord)
- encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- a tumor or lesion pressed against the brain or spinal cord
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- sciatica (pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve)
- hyperventilation (rapid or deep breathing)
- hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)
Additionally, some medications, a poor diet, or exposure to toxic substances can trigger paresthesia.
Most of these conditions don’t go away on their own and will require treatment. Your physician can help you determine what’s causing your symptoms and how to treat it.
Pins and needles sensations are common and usually nothing to stress about. Simply changing your position or moving around can relieve temporary paresthesia.
If your symptoms are severe and don’t go away, they may signal another medical problem. A doctor can help figure out what’s causing the discomfort.