Numbness and Tingling

hndnumb.gifAlternative names: Sensory loss; Paresthesias; Tingling and numbness; Loss of sensation

Definition: Numbness and tingling are abnormal sensations that can occur anywhere in your body, but are often felt in your hands, feet, arms, or legs.

Common Causes

There are many possible causes:

  • Remaining in the same seated or standing position for a long time
  • Injury to a nerve — for example, a neck injury may cause you to feel numbness anywhere along your arm or hand, while a low back injury can cause numbness or tingling down the back of your leg
  • Pressure on the spinal nerves such as that due to a herniated disk
  • Lack of blood supply to an area — for example, plaque buildup from atherosclerosis in the legs can cause pain, numbness, and tingling while walking (this is called vascular claudication)
  • Other medical conditions, including Carpal tunnel syndrome, Diabetes, Migraines, Multiple sclerosis, Seizures, Stroke, Transient ischemic attack (TIA), Underactive thyroid
  • Abnormal levels of calcium, potassium, or sodium in your body
  • A lack of vitamin B12 or other vitamin
  • Certain medications
  • Toxic action on nerves, such as that from lead, alcohol, or tobacco
  • Radiation therapy

Your doctor may also ask you questions to determine your risk for stroke, thyroid disease, or diabetes, as well as questions about your work habits and medications. Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood tests such as CBC, electrolytes, thyroid function tests, and vitamin levels
  • Imaging studies like a CT scan of the head, CT scan of the spine, MRI of the head, or MRI of the spine
  • Electromyography and nerve conduction studies to measure how your muscles respond to nerve stimulation
  • X-ray of the affected area
  • Lumbar puncture to rule out central nervous system disorders

Ultrasound of neck vessels to determine your risk for TIA or stroke