While it could be as simple as an irritated nerve, pins and needles can also be caused by an underlying health condition.
If you’ve ever slept on your arm or crossed your leg for too long, then you may be familiar with the pins and needles sensation. Some people describe it as a fuzzy numbness, whereas others call it a prickling sensation.
Whatever it feels like to you, the various sensations associated with pins and needles are medically referred to as paresthesias. The word “paresthesia” literally translates to “abnormal feeling,” which is a vague way of indicating changes in nerve function.
There are various causes of paresthesia that can range from simple, positional causes to underlying health issues. If your pins and needles feeling doesn’t improve with a change in your posture or limb position, then it may be time for a checkup.
There are a variety of different causes that can lead to pins and needles. A few factors that can help determine its cause include:
- where you feel the sensation
- how long the sensation lasts
- when it first started
- whether or not it’s associated with certain positions or postures
If you noticed that the sensation is associated with certain positions like sitting or crossing your legs, then it could be related to pressure.
Putting pressure on certain areas of the body can lead to compression of both a nerve and its blood supply. This temporarily interferes with the nerve’s function, which you’ll usually experience as paresthesia.
Certain medications for conditions like HIV and cancer can affect nerve function and lead to paresthesia. If you’re living with either condition, a health professional can discuss the potential side effects of any medications you may be taking.
Some supplements can also contribute to paresthesia. A popular bodybuilding supplement called beta-alanine is known to cause pins and needles several minutes after ingestion.
Long-term supplementation of vitamin B6 can also be the cause. This is particularly true if you feel numbness or tingling in your hands and feet. But it’s only relevant if you’ve been taking a daily dose of 50 mg or more, which is considered very high.
If you aren’t taking medications or supplements and are certain that the sensation isn’t related to body position, it could be due to an underlying condition.
These conditions may include:
- stroke or transient ischemic attack
- head or limb trauma
- vitamin B12 deficiency
- multiple sclerosis
- panic attack
- alcohol abuse
- carpal-, cubital-, or tarsal tunnel syndrome
- thoracic outlet syndrome
- sjogren’s syndrome
- systemic sclerosis
- rheumatoid arthritis
- Lyme disease
- heavy metal toxicity
Pins and needles itself isn’t usually dangerous. But the underlying cause of the sensation could be worrisome as it may indicate nerve or artery damage. This is particularly true if you also have other symptoms besides paresthesia.
Concerning symptoms may include:
- unintended weight loss
- night sweats
- body aches
- changes in vision, hearing, or speech
- changes in appetite or thirst
- pain from a recent injury to the area
- recent or current illness
If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms together with pins and needles, it may be beneficial to speak with a health professional.
Pins and needles can feel similar to what it’s called, literally as if there are small pins and needles poking the area. There isn’t usually any pain, but rather a tingling numbness that can also be described as:
You may also experience a sensation as if your body part has “fallen asleep.” This may start out as a tingling numbness that becomes a bit like a dull, fuzzy feeling.
In other cases, if your body part is compressed for long enough, you may also notice that it becomes totally numb.
When that happens, it’s difficult to feel the affected limb, and you may not be able to move it. But feeling typically returns within seconds to minutes after the pressure is removed.
It’s rare to have pins and needles all over your body simultaneously, as it usually affects one or a couple of body parts. For example, in vitamin B6-related paresthesia, you feel the sensation in your hands and feet but not in other body parts.
If you have pins and needles in different body parts at different times, you can first try to reposition yourself. The cause of pins and needles might be simply from pressure on your nerves.
If changing positions doesn’t seem to work, taking note of any additional symptoms you may be feeling, like pain or fatigue, can be helpful. Also, check the side effects of any new medications or supplements you started taking and note when you took your last dose.
Pins and needles unrelieved by positional changes and unrelated to medications should probably be discussed with a health professional. They’ll be able to help you determine what might be causing the sensation.
Your nerves will let you know when something isn’t right. If they’re under pressure, they might fall asleep or send you strange sensations.
In more complicated scenarios, nerve sensations can be secondary effects of various health conditions. Keeping a tab on when you feel the pins and needles can help you identify whether or not it’s something to be concerned about.