What Causes Tingling in Your Hands and Arms?
Author: Dr. Hamid Abbasi
DATE: 09 Apr 2018
Back Pain & Injuries
We’ve all experienced it. You wake up in the morning and your arm and fingers are numb. You’ve slept on your arm the “wrong way.” You shake your arm and, within a few minutes, it begins to feel better. But what if you’re experiencing tingling in your hands and arms that isn’t related to a bad sleep position? A number of conditions can explain it. Carpal tunnel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis are possible causes. But the problem may stem from your spine.
The root of the problem
A complex network of nerves runs throughout the spinal column. When a nerve root in the cervical or neck portion of the spine is compressed, it can become irritated. The result is what’s known as cervical radiculopathy (ruh-dik-yoo-LOP-uh-thee). In layman’s terms, it’s a pinched nerve and can show up as pain and numbness in your arms, hands, and fingers.
So why would your spine put the squeeze on a nerve? A number of spinal conditions can do this:
People may ask themselves, “Why do my hands go numb?”, and this needs to be answered sooner rather than later. Conditions and situations that can cause these symptoms in the upper extremities, and which need to be ruled out through further examination and investigations by a healthcare professional, include the following:
- Herniated disc—A herniated or bulging disc in your neck is a common cause of radiculopathy.
In what is commonly known as a “slipped disc,” the herniation occurs because the outer portion of a disc ruptures. The pulpy material inside leaks through the opening, irritating the spinal nerves or compressing the spinal column. It is twice as likely to occur in men and usually appears between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Cervical degenerative disc disease—The discs act as shock absorbers. Over time, they can lose some of their ability to absorb shock. The bones don’t fit together the way that they did when we were younger. Eventually, discs may collapse and press on the spinal nerves. When the affected nerves are in the neck, this is known as cervical degenerative disc disease and can affect the arms and hands. Degenerative disc disease affects 90% of those who are age 65 or older.
- Cervical or spinal stenosis—Stenosis means that a passage within the body has narrowed. In the case of cervical spinal stenosis, it is the space within the spinal canal that is affected. This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and can press on delicate nerves. If this happens in the neck, it can result in tingling in the arms and hands.
Herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis don’t only affect the neck. They can occur anywhere throughout the spine, including the mid- and lower-back region. When they do, they create similar tingling and numbness in the legs and buttocks as well.
Signs of a Serious Neurologic Problem
In rare cases, tingling in the arms and hands can be serious. Get immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms:
- if your symptoms begin suddenly or after an injury or accident.
- if you experience weakness or paralysis.
- if you also have difficulty speaking or are confused.
- if you are dizzy, lightheaded, or have a sudden, severe headache.
Serious or just annoying?
Tingling or numbness in your arms or hands can be annoying, especially if it impedes your ability to perform everyday tasks. But if it lasts for more than two weeks, it could signal something serious. It’s best to talk with a doctor. Should it turn out to be a pinched nerve, permanent damage can occur if it is allowed to go on for too long.
Your doctor will take a complete medical history and perform a physical examination. In most cases, diagnostic tests—such as an X-ray or MRI—are used as a first step in identifying the exact cause of the problem.
Anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or steroid injections are often enough to do the trick. Avoiding any activity that puts a strain on your neck or back will help as well. With the right treatment, many people improve within a few months.
For those who don’t, surgery is an option. A surgeon will remove pieces of bone or soft tissue to relieve pressure on the nerve. Surgeons at Inspired Spine can perform an innovative and minimally invasive procedure known as keyhole surgery that results in less post-operative pain and faster recovery than traditional surgeries and other minimally invasive techniques. Even older and obese patients can be candidates for this procedure. Talk to an expert at Inspired Spine to learn more.