A tingling feeling in the back is commonly described as a pins-and-needles, stinging, or “crawling” sensation. Depending on its cause and location, the feeling can be chronic or short-lived (acute). Seek immediate medical attention if the tingling is accompanied by:

  • sudden weakness in the legs
  • problems walking
  • loss of control of your bladder or bowels

Those symptoms in addition to a tingling back sensation could signal a more serious condition called massive disk herniation (cauda equina syndrome) or a tumor on the spine.

Tingling in the back is commonly caused by nerve compression, damage, or irritation. Some causes include:

Brachial plexopathy

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves in the spinal column that send signals to the shoulders, arms, and hands. If these nerves are stretched or compressed, a stinging, tingling pain can develop.

In most cases, the pain is felt in the arm and lasts only briefly. The stinging can radiate around the neck and shoulders. Treatment involves:

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system that produces widespread muscle pain and fatigue. Pain, ranging from dull and achy to tingly, is often worse in areas where there’s a lot of movement, such as the shoulders and neck. The condition is often treated with:

  • pain relievers
  • anti-inflammatories
  • muscle relaxers
  • antidepressants, which can help relieve pain and symptoms of depression that can occur when living with fibromyalgia

Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy is a pinched nerve that occurs in the spine within the neck. A neck nerve can become pinched (or compressed).

This occurs when one of the shock-absorbing discs that lies between each vertebra (the bones of the spine) collapses, bulges, or “herniates,” pressing against sensitive nerves. This often happens due to aging or improper body mechanics.

In addition to arm numbness and weakness, there can also be a tingling pain in the shoulder and neck. Most cases will heal with:

  • rest
  • use of a neck collar to limit range of motion
  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
  • physical therapy

Lhermitte’s sign

Lhermitte’s sign is a shock-like sensation linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disorder. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, about 40 percent of people with MS experience Lhermitte’s sign, especially when the neck flexes forward.

The pain usually lasts only seconds but can recur. There’s no specific treatment for Lhermitte’s sign, although steroids and pain relievers are common treatments for MS.

Shingles

Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that produces chickenpox (varicella zoster virus). It affects nerve endings.

Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant in your system for years. If it becomes reactivated, it appears as a blistering rash that often wraps around the torso producing a tingling or burning pain. Treatment includes:

  • pain relievers (including narcotics in some cases)
  • antiviral medications
  • anticonvulsants
  • steroids
  • numbing topical sprays, creams, or gels
  • antidepressants

Herniated disc

A herniated disk can occur anywhere along the spine. However, the lower back is a common place. Treatment consists of:

  • rest
  • ice
  • pain relievers
  • physical therapy

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column. This narrowing can trap and pinch nerve roots. According to the American College of Rheumatology, osteoarthritis causes it.

Spinal stenosis becomes more common as people age. Anyone age 50 or older is at risk. Like other forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis can be treated with:

  • pain relievers
  • anti-inflammatories
  • muscle relaxers
  • steroids

Sciatica

The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back into the buttocks and legs. When the nerve is compressed — which spinal stenosis or a herniated disc can cause — a tingling pain can be felt in your legs. To relieve pain, your doctor may prescribe:

  • anti-inflammatories
  • pain relievers
  • muscle relaxers
  • antidepressants

In addition to seeking medical treatment, you can try some of the following at-home therapies:

Cold and hot compress

Wrap ice in a towel and place it against the painful area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Use ice until the inflammation subsides, then add heat if you find it comfortable.

Rest

Rest up, but don’t stay in bed for more than a day or two to prevent stiffened muscles. Sleeping in a fetal position can take pressure off the spine.

OTC medication

Take pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) as directed.

Good posture

Stand with your shoulders back, chin up, and stomach tucked in.

Bath

Take a slightly warm bath with an OTC oatmeal preparation to soothe tingly skin.

Yoga

According to a 2016 review that analyzed several studies on yoga and chronic low-back pain, participants who performed yoga had less pain, disability, and symptoms of depression than those who didn’t do yoga.

Talk to your doctor about how you may be able to add yoga to your treatment plan for low-back pain.

Acupuncture

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), research suggests that acupuncture is an effective therapy for relieving low-back pain. To reduce your risk of side effects, see an experienced acupuncturist.

Massage

A 2012 study shows that deep tissue massage may be more beneficial than therapeutic massage as a treatment for chronic back pain. However, there’s a potential disadvantage. While massage may feel good, its pain-relieving effects are generally short-term.

See your doctor when your pain becomes excessive or persistent, or it’s affecting your daily activities for more than a few days. Other signs you need medical help include:

  • back pain along with a fever, stiff neck, or headache
  • increasing numbness or weakness in your arms or legs
  • problems balancing
  • loss of control over your bladder or bowels

A tingling sensation in your back can have a variety of causes. Most cases result from nerve compression and miscommunication between the nervous system and brain. Rest, pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy are standard and effective treatments.

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend narcotics or surgery to relieve pressure on pinched nerves.

Many nerve problems are due to aging and degenerative disc disease. You can help keep your back healthy by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good body mechanics, and quitting smoking.

The nicotine in cigarettes can interfere with blood flow, making it more likely you will encounter disc degeneration.