Numbness – what to do?

Numbness - what to do?

Numbness in the arms, thighs, feet or face can have various causes. A lack of blood flow or a pinched nerve is often responsible for the symptoms. But serious illnesses such as a herniated disc or a stroke can also be accompanied by a feeling of numbness. We will inform you about possible causes and give tips on what you can do against the numbness.

numbness (hypesthesia)

A numb feeling – hypaesthesia – is caused by reduced skin sensitivity. If such a feeling of numbness is present, the sense of feeling is disturbed, and no or only limited information about external stimuli can be passed on to the brain in this way. This includes information about heat and cold, touch and pressure, pain and vibration. A complete loss of feeling is called anaesthesia.

A loss of the sense of touch occurs mainly in the extremities, so numbness in the fingers, toes, arms and legs is widespread. On the other hand, it is relatively rare on the face or trunk. The numb feeling can be unilateral or bilateral. An uncomfortable tingling sensation often accompanies numbness.


Numbness: causes and diagnosis

There can be a variety of causes behind numbness. The cause is harmless in some cases, but recurring numbness can also indicate a serious illness. If the numb feeling occurs more frequently, a doctor should be consulted. Possible causes of numbness include:

Depending on the cause of the numbness, other symptoms can also co-occur, such as pain or motor impairments.

When making a diagnosis, it is essential for the doctor treating you to know where, since when and in which situations the numbness occurs, whether it is unilateral or bilateral and whether it has persisted since it first appeared or whether it will go away on its own. To determine possible nerve damage, the doctor checks the reflexes and various sensory functions – for example, hearing and vision. If there is an initial suspicion, further investigations may be necessary.

circulatory disorders as a cause

When the temperatures in winter are low, our hands and feet may become too cold, and we no longer have any feeling in them. The cold causes the blood vessels to constrict, and the blood supply to the extremities is reduced. Only in warmer temperatures does the numbness disappear, and the sensation returns – an unpleasant tingling in the fingers and toes often accompanies this process.

While cold-related, short-term circulatory disorders are usually harmless, you should consult a doctor immediately if you experience a circulatory disorder without apparent cause. Then serious diseases such as arteriosclerosis or Raynaud’s disease, which primarily affects the arteries in the fingers and toes, can be behind the numbness. In particular, circulatory disorders in the brain and the legs can cause a numb feeling. On the other hand, circulatory disorders in the heart are more noticeable through a feeling of tightness in the chest.


Pinched nerves as the cause

Everyone has probably experienced numbness in the arms, legs, hands and feet caused by a pinched nerve: A wrong posture – for example, when sitting or lying down – pinches a nerve and disturbs the transmission of stimuli.

As a result, the hand or arm feels numb and can no longer be moved voluntarily. An unpleasant tingling sensation often accompanies an arm or leg falling asleep on the skin. The numb feeling usually disappears as soon as we move the body part that has fallen asleep a little. If this is not the case or if the numb feeling occurs more frequently, there is another cause behind the symptoms that a doctor should clarify.

Carpal tunnel syndrome as a cause

If there is a constantly recurring numbness in the fingers and an unpleasant tingling sensation, carpal tunnel syndrome is probably behind the symptoms. The median nerve is constricted as it passes through the carpal canal. The causes of carpal tunnel syndrome can vary, such as bony misalignments after fractures or tendonitis. Often, however, no direct cause can be determined. The numbness in the fingers can usually be eliminated by wearing a special splint. If there is no improvement, surgical treatment is carried out.

In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, numb fingers and hands can also occur if other nerves, such as the ulnar nerve, are pinched off (ulnar tunnel syndrome). This syndrome is also known as cyclist paralysis because it is usually caused by gripping the handlebars tightly.

Narrowing of the nerve canals can occur not only in the arms but also in the legs. A pinched nerve and the associated numbness in the thigh are particularly common. This is inguinal tunnel syndrome (groin tunnel syndrome) or jeans disease. The thigh skin nerve is damaged by being overweight, but also by clothing that is too tight. Depending on the stage of the syndrome, drug, physical or surgical therapy can be used.

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