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Hand Numbness

Hand and finger numbness is an abnormal sensation that’s caused by a change in sensory nerve function. Alternative names for this condition include numb fingers, numbness in fingers, numbness of fingers, and tingling fingers.

What causes hand numbness?

Sensations are carried to the brain through neurons in the spinal cord. If the blood supply to the nerves is limited or the nerve is otherwise damaged, it can produce the feeling that your finger "fell asleep." Permanent or severe blood loss, also known as ischemia, can result in permanent nerve damage. Nerves in the fingers can be damaged when the blood supply is decreased over time, as in diabetes.

However, diagnosing hand numbness isn’t a clear-cut process. This is because the associated nerve damage has a variety of causes. You’ll need to receive a diagnosis from a doctor to help determine the cause and get the right treatment.

What conditions are associated with hand numbness?

A variety of conditions are associated with hand numbness.

Nerve disorders

Autoimmune diseases

Nutritional deficiencies

Bacterial diseases

Other causes

How is hand numbness diagnosed?

Given the multiple possible causes of hand numbness, your doctor will need to diagnose chronic hand numbness. First, they’ll look at your complete medical history. A physical will be required for your doctor to make a diagnosis.

It’s important to be honest with your doctor about any lifestyle habits you engage in that could contribute to your symptoms, such as alcohol abuse. This helps your doctor determine which tests to order to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Possible required tests include:

  • blood tests
  • nerve conduction velocity tests
  • electromyography (EMG), a test that measures activity between your nerves and muscles
  • imaging studies, such as X-rays or MRI scans
  • nerve biopsy
  • spinal taps, which are most often used in neurological disorder diagnoses

Depending on the outcome of these tests, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. If certain medical conditions are suspected, you might need to see a:

  • neurologist
  • nutrition counselor
  • pain management specialist
  • physical or occupational therapist
  • rheumatologist

What treatments are available for hand numbness?

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and aim to relieve symptoms. This involves a combination of conventional treatments and home remedies. Once the underlying cause is found and treated, your doctor may refer you to physical and occupational therapy to help ease symptoms.

Medications aren’t typically used to treat hand numbness itself. Corticosteroids may temporarily alleviate symptoms, but these can only be used on a short-term basis. Once your doctor determines the root cause of hand numbness, then you might take medications specifically for that condition. For example, if diabetes is the suspected cause, then you might be put on insulin. Your hand numbness may improve over time once the underlying condition is managed.

Home remedies

When combined with conventional therapies, home remedies may also offer benefits for hand numbness. Applying warm compresses to the hands may help stimulate blood flow and nerve activity. Stretching regularly can also stimulate blood flow.

When should you contact your doctor?

It’s important to see your doctor if your hand numbness continues or if it worsens and spreads to other parts of the body. Persistent symptoms in one hand could also indicate an underlying medical problem. Seeing your doctor sooner rather than later can help prevent permanent nerve damage, depending on the underlying cause.

You’ll also want to call your doctor right away if finger numbness doesn’t go away and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

You should also see your doctor if you notice any burns or injuries as a result of hand numbness. Such accidents can happen because the loss of sensation in your hands can cause you to get hurt without feeling it. Call 911 or your local emergency services if you think the injury is severe.

Content licensed from:

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN and Kristeen Cherneyon: Jul 05, 2017

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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