People rely on their sense of touch to quickly pull away from a hot object or to feel changes in terrain under their feet. These are referred to as sensations.
If you can’t feel as well, especially with your hands or feet, it’s known as impaired sensation. If you have impaired sensation, you may not feel anything at all. Or you may feel unusual sensations, such as:
Impaired sensation can lead to injury and balance problems.
It can be a temporary occurrence that takes place after an injury or a chronic condition that results from diabetes or another illness. Sudden impaired sensation can be a medical emergency.
If you’ve ever crossed your legs and had one of them go numb, you’ve experienced impaired sensation. While this feeling may go away within a few minutes, impaired sensation that’s caused by other conditions may not.
Impaired sensation can result from a variety of conditions, such as:
- brain tumor
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- chronic kidney failure
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- head injury
- herniated disc
- lead poisoning
- opioid dependence
- peripheral neuropathy
- phantom limb pain after an amputation
- spinal cord injury
- ulnar nerve palsy
Sudden loss of sensation can be a medical emergency because it may be a sign of stroke.
Seek immediate medical attention if you or a loved one experiences the following symptoms:
- loss of balance
- sudden confusion
- sudden, severe headache with no known cause
- sudden weakness on one side of the body
- trouble seeing
If you have symptoms of impaired sensation that seem to be getting worse or you’re experiencing falls or loss of balance because of impaired sensation, let your healthcare provider know.
To diagnose the extent and cause of impaired sensation, your healthcare provider may start by asking you several questions, such as:
- Where do you feel the change in sensation? Do you feel it deep under your skin or just across the top of your skin?
- When do the new sensations or loss of sensation occur most often? Do they last all day, or do they come and go?
- Does anything make your symptoms feel worse or better, such as rest, moving, or sleeping?
Next, they will often perform a physical examination. They may tap lightly on your skin to determine how much you can feel.
They may also recommend one or more of the following tests:
- imaging scans, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to check for injury or abnormalities in your head, spine, or other areas
- nerve conduction velocity studies, which measure how well electrical impulses pass through your nerves
- reflex tests
Your healthcare provider’s recommended treatment for impaired sensation will depend on the cause.
For example, diabetic neuropathy is a common cause of impaired sensation. If you have diabetic neuropathy, your healthcare provider may coach you on how to better manage your blood sugar by checking your blood sugar levels and treating high blood sugar with medication.
Practicing careful foot care, including having your toenails cut at a podiatrist’s office and going to regular foot exam appointments, can also help.
If your impaired sensation is caused by a pinched nerve or sciatica, surgery may help relieve the pressure on the nerve and improve your sensation.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe pain medication to help manage your symptoms resulting from abnormal sensations.
A variety of conditions can cause impaired sensation. Your healthcare provider’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the cause.
If you experience sudden loss of sensation, it may be a sign of stroke. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.