Pins and Needles – Paresthesia

You might not know it, but at some time or other you have likely suffered from paresthesia. It sounds like a serious condition, but you can rest easily knowing that it’s actually very mundane despite the impressive name and is something that we all consider an every day blight and not something to write home about. You may also know this condition as ‘pins and needles’ which is the sensation you get whenever your arm or leg falls asleep.

Of course that’s the case if your pins and needles are acute and transient and these temporary cases are normally a result of our sitting in an awkward position or banging our funny bone. In other cases paresthesia can be a more serious condition – if you find that you have it chronically then it might point to a range of different long-term issues. It’s important to recognize this so that you can examine other symptoms and get medical attention if necessary.

So what’s happening when you experience that familiar tingling? What causes it? How can you stop it? And could your paresthesia point to something more serious? Here we will have an in depth examination of the phenomenon.

What Causes Transient Pins and Needles?

Pins and needles is characterized by the sensation of tingling in the limbs and extremities. This is of course a result of the nerves in that area becoming excited or temporarily subdued.

What happens here is that the nerves in your limb fire to register this. Over a long period of time the nerves then begin to create the tingling sensation as a result of that pressure being prolonged and the nerve starting to falter. Usually the sensation of pins and needles will be preceded by numbness, and it is only when you move again that the brain begins sending signals to the area again creating the sensation of tiny pin pricks. This is the feeling of the nerves resuming normal function. In the case of hitting your funny bone, it is not the bone at all you are hitting but rather an exposed nerve – and direct contact causes it to fire in a way that produces the pins and needles sensation.

A lack of blood flow can also cause the nerves to misfire as a result of not getting the oxygen they need. This too can be caused by sitting uncomfortably as you might end up cutting off your blood flow by placing pressure on the limb so that the blood cannot flow easily past. Likewise a tight item of clothing or jewelry could cause this.

How to Cure Pins and Needles

So if you have temporary pins and needles as a result of sitting uncomfortably all you need to do is to start stimulating the nerves again. To do this just try moving around again and remove the pressure on the nerve. This will also return any hampered blood flow and thereby return the nerve to normal operation. If you banged the nerve then just rub the area to restore normal function.

If your pins and needles are caused by a lack of blood flow then address the issue restricting the blood flow – are you wearing a hair band on your wrist? Is your watch too tight? Have you rolled your sleeves up? In some cases this tingling can be a result of incorrect breathing and pins and needles is also a symptom of panic attack. So if you are hyperventilating then try to calm down and slow your breathing.

What Causes Chronic Pins and Needles?

So what is the cause in chronic cases? Well essentially any condition that can damage nerves or restrict blood flow could result in these symptoms. This might include for instance diabetes – the reason being that it results in too much sugar getting to the nerves which can cause damage and result in the tingling sensation. Likewise a vitamin B12 overdose can similarly damage the nerves over time, as can a deficiency.

In these cases it is very important to get diagnosed, as continued overdose can otherwise result in the nerves becoming damaged permanently and this can cause you to permanently lose sensation or even use of the limbs. Likewise in the case of diabetes the sugar can do damage to your other areas of your body such as to your organs and this can be highly dangerous. Signs that you could be suffering from diabetes include lethargy and frequent urination. Get a blood test and your doctor will be able to inform you if you are suffering from diabetes or B12 problems. A lack of blood to an area can also have chronic causes – if you have tingling legs this could be caused by obesity and circulation problems. Likewise anemia (which causes a low red blood cell count) or high blood pressure can have similar effects.

Physical impediments can also damage your nerves. For instance a nerve can get trapped between bones which can cause serious pain or just tingling and numbness. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome for instance the nerves that lead to the hands can be crushed as they go through the wrist bones. You will also notice swelling and pain. Arthritis can cause a similar problem anywhere in the body (though there are many types of arthritis) and cervical nerve root irritation where the holes that the nerves travel through down the spine become inflamed and place pressure on the nerves. In sciatica it is the sciatic nerve in the base of the spine that is affected and this results in tingling and pins and pain in the legs and feet. Serious injury can also permanently damage nerves – if you have a serious scar for instance where you were cut or burned then touching the area might cause a tingling sensation.

Finally sometimes the nerves themselves are damaged and this can be result in similar symptoms. For instance neuritis is an inflammation of the nerves themselves and this is caused by chronic alcoholism, Guillain-Barre syndrome (caused by a viral infection), consumption of heavy metals such as lead and mercury and the use of some drug.

If you are experiencing pins and needles then generally this will be brief, transient and harmless. If it continues however, then seek medical attention as soon as possible and make a note of other symptoms.

1 comment

  1. Gail Hartrick Reply
    September 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    If a 90 yr. old diabetic with stage 3 sacral pressure ulcer develops paresthesia, (she apparently has no neurological history) is it assumed it's from the pressure ulcer or should she be referred for follow?

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