What causes numbness in fingers? Diagnosis and treatment

women-having-tingling-sensation-in-hand
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key takeaways

  • Finger numbness can be due to various reasons, such as health conditions like diabetes, too much alcohol, or repetitive hand movements like typing.
  • To determine why your fingers are numb, a doctor will ask about your health, do some tests, and then suggest treatments like medicine, wearing a brace, or even surgery based on the cause.
  • If your fingers feel numb, don’t ignore it. Talk to a doctor to find out why and get the proper treatment. And if it’s sudden or comes with other strange feelings, see a doctor immediately.

Overview

Hand or finger numbness can be caused by nerve compression in your wrist or arm, injury, or finger irritation. It can also be due to a burn where the skin and the nerves of the fingers get affected. Hand or finger numbness can also be due to various reasons like health conditions, e.g., diabetes, too much alcohol, and repetitive hand movements like typing.

Getting consultation helps you understand the underlying cause of the numbness that will eventually lead to the effective treatment of numbness.  Understanding the correct cause of this tingling sensation in your fingers can help you get a timely diagnosis and effective treatment. To determine and diagnose why your fingers are numb, a doctor will ask about your health, do some tests, and then suggest treatments like medicine, wearing a brace, or even surgery based on the cause.

Why are my fingers numb?

Our fingertips have sensors that send signals to the brain and receive messages to take action. Numbness in fingers or a burning sensation indicates where your nerves are pinched or injured, causing a tingling sensation, which causes trouble picking and holding things. Moreover, if you use the keyboard frequently, chances are you overworked your fingers or pressed too hard, causing injury to your fingers. However, you need not worry, as noninvasive treatments help ease the numbness in the fingers. Whether the cause is a minor injury to nerves or a severe health condition like carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or even stroke, personalized treatments work in your favor.

numbness in fingers

What are the causes of finger numbness?

Your finger numbness can have several possible causes, from physical damage to a symptom of a more severe medical condition. Here are – possible causes for tingling and numbness in your fingers:

Diabetes

Diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes, can lead to nerve damage in the hands and feet, with symptoms including numbness, tingling, pain, muscle weakness, poor balance, and more. High blood sugar levels over time can contribute to peripheral neuropathy, a condition characterized by nerve damage.

Treatment options

While it is not possible to reverse nerve damage once it occurs, managing diabetes effectively can help prevent further deterioration. Additionally, maintaining reasonable control of blood sugar levels is crucial in preventing the worsening of neuropathy.

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Excessive Alcohol usage

Prolonged and heavy alcohol consumption may lead to alcoholic polyneuropathy, resulting in finger numbness. This condition is a form of nerve damage that manifests as tingling or numbness in the arms, legs, or feet, often described as a “pins and needles” sensation. It can cause limb pain, muscle weakness, falls, and difficulty swallowing or eating.

Treatment options 

The primary treatment for alcoholic polyneuropathy is to stop drinking alcohol, as this can halt the progression of nerve damage. Medical detox and rehabilitation programs can help individuals struggling with alcohol use.

 In addition to abstaining from alcohol, treatment options may include: 

  • Pain medication
  • physical therapy
  • Use of splints or braces
  • nutrition supplements, e.g., vitamins E
  • B1
  • Folate
  • vitamin B12.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of a central hand nerve due to repetitive hand movements, such as using tools or typing. This compression occurs within the carpal tunnel, a small space in the wrist through which many nerves controlling hand and finger functions pass.

Prolonged exposure to activities that strain the wrists, like computer use, can irritate the carpal tunnel and lead to swelling and pinching of nerves. It leads to symptoms like finger numbness, tingling, and pain. 

Treatment options 

Making ergonomic changes, such as taking frequent breaks, maintaining a neutral wrist position during keyboard and mouse usage, and wearing wrist splints, can alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms. Getting timely consultation can help you avoid and treat carpel tunnel syndrome effectively. 

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia primarily presents as diffuse, unexplained pain, but it can also include finger numbness and various associated symptoms. Besides widespread pain, individuals with fibromyalgia often experience fatigue, headaches, depression, and sleep disturbances.

This chronic condition is believed to be linked to alterations in how the brain processes pain signals. 

Treatment options 

Counseling, regular exercise, and stress reduction techniques can also contribute to symptom management. It’s beneficial to get medical consultation and effective treatment options from your healthcare provider to treat numbness in your fingers eventually. 

Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy occurs when a nerve leaving the neck becomes inflamed or compressed, leading to symptoms like numbness, tingling, and clumsiness in the hands. It is also commonly known as a “pinched nerve.” This condition is often linked to issues in the cervical spine, such as herniated discs or bone spurs, which can exert pressure on the nerves.

Only a healthcare professional can diagnose this medical condition and determine the course of effective treatment for cervical radiculopathy.

Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease triggers spasms in the small arteries of the fingers, constricting them and potentially leading to numbness due to insufficient blood supply to the finger nerves. Cold temperatures and emotional stress are common triggers for these spasms.

During an episode, fingers may appear pale or bluish, and the episode typically lasts for about 20 minutes.

Treatment options 

Managing Raynaud’s disease involves keeping the extremities warm and avoiding cold exposure. In severe cases, medications that dilate blood vessels may be prescribed to improve blood flow.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by joint inflammation, tenderness, and pain. This condition can also lead to tingling, numbness, and a burning sensation in the hands. Rheumatoid arthritis often affects both sides of the body simultaneously, causing symmetrical symptoms.

Treatment options 

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis aims to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and slow down the progression of the disease. Medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications may be recommended to manage the condition.

Compressed nerves

Apart from carpal tunnel syndrome, various health conditions can lead to the compression of nerves in the arms or wrists. These conditions include nerve injuries, enlarged muscles, blood vessels, or cysts. Such compression may result in numbness, pain, or weakness.

Treatment options 

The appropriate treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the underlying cause, and in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to alleviate the compression.

Ulnar nerve entrapment

While carpal tunnel syndrome involves the median nerve, ulnar nerve entrapment affects the ulnar nerve on the outer side of the arm, typically resulting in numbness in the pinky and ring fingers. In some instances, individuals may also experience aching pain within the elbow.

Some other causes of numbness in fingers 

Numbness in fingers can be due to medical conditions like 

  • Shoulder injury,
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Lyme disease
  • chemotherapy side effects
  • vitamin B12 deficiency.

It is essential to consult a healthcare professional if finger numbness persists, worsens, or is associated with other concerning symptoms, and emergency medical assistance should be sought if numbness occurs suddenly or follows a head injury.

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How is finger numbness diagnosed?

Finger numbness can be diagnosed through a comprehensive evaluation by a medical professional, usually involving the following steps:

Medical History and Physical Examination: A doctor will begin by taking your medical history and conducting a physical examination of your arm, hand, and fingers. This initial assessment helps identify potential causes or contributing factors for your numbness.

Additional Diagnostic Lab Tests: To gain a more in-depth understanding of the underlying cause of your finger numbness, your doctor may recommend additional diagnostic tests. These tests can include:

Electrodiagnostic Test: This test assesses the function of nerves and can help pinpoint areas where nerve function may be compromised. It is particularly useful in diagnosing conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve-related issues.

  • X-ray Imaging: X-rays can provide a detailed view of the bones in various areas, such as the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers. These images can reveal whether bones have shifted or slipped out of their proper alignment, potentially causing nerve compression or pinching.
  • MRI or Ultrasound: Sometimes, your doctor may recommend more advanced imaging studies like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. These tests can offer a clearer picture of the structures within the affected areas and help determine if a nerve is being pinched or compressed by surrounding tissues or structures.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests may be conducted to diagnose underlying medical conditions that can lead to finger numbness. For instance, tests can identify conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or vitamin B12 deficiency, which may be contributing to the numbness.

If you are experiencing persistent or severe finger numbness, seeking medical attention is crucial for a proper diagnosis and effective management.

Numb fingers may cause permanent inability to work. Get treatment within minutes.

How to relieve numbness in fingers?

Treatment for finger numbness can vary based on its underlying cause and severity. Your doctor will typically recommend one or more of the following approaches:

Prescription Medications

Some prescription medications can help manage neuropathic pain and numbness in fingers as:

In cases where inflammation is a contributing factor, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce it. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are commonly used for this purpose.

Over-the-counter (OTC) Medication

In cases where inflammation is a contributing factor, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce it. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are commonly used for this purpose.

Brace or Splint

Wearing a brace or splint can be beneficial in maintaining a stable position for your elbow or wrist, thereby reducing nerve compression. This support device helps alleviate pressure on the affected nerves.

Rest and Ice

Resting your hand and wrist is essential for reducing inflammation. Add ice to the affected area to alleviate swelling and discomfort.

Surgical Interventions

In some cases, surgical treatments may be necessary to address the root causes of finger numbness. Surgical procedures can involve removing or repairing damaged nerves, or they may aim to prevent bones from pressing on the nerves. For example, depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor may recommend ulnar nerve transposition, medial epicondylectomy, and cubital tunnel release.

Stretches and Exercises

Stretching and exercises can be crucial in reducing discomfort and muscle tension. Examples include:

  • To reduce muscle tension in the wrist, rotate the hand ten times clockwise and ten times anticlockwise, and gently spread the fingers as wide as possible.

The treatment choice will depend on the cause of your finger numbness and should be determined in consultation with your doctor. Effective treatment can relieve and improve the quality of life for individuals experiencing this symptom.

How can I prevent finger numbness?

Either the repetitive movement or the underlying medical conditions can affect the nerves, leading to numbness in fingers or hands. 

Here are some ways to prevent these injuries:

  • Work on your posture: Sit or stand correctly when using tools, a keyboard, or any device.
  • Take breaks every 30 to 60 minutes when you’re working. Change the posture and place. 
  • Stretch the muscles you use to make them feel better.
  • Use special tools, like a wrist brace or wrist rest for a keyboard, to make your hands more comfortable. 
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Talk to a doctor

Finger numbness should not be ignored; it is often treatable with the right interventions. Early consultation is essential as it can help prevent the persistence of symptoms and potential long-term issues. If you experience other symptoms alongside numbness like weakness, confusion, speech difficulties, dizziness, or a severe headache, immediate medical assistance should be sought.

For urgent care cases, such as gradual or persistent numbness, numbness that spreads to other body parts, or numbness associated with specific tasks or activities, consulting a healthcare provider is recommended to identify the cause and determine an appropriate course of action.

FAQs about numbness in fingers

Is hand numbness a severe problem?

The severity of hand numbness depends on the cause behind it. It can range from mild to severe damage or nerve compression, causing either temporary or permanent numbness feeling in the hand. Talk to a doctor to rule out the risk of complications.

Can finger numbness be permanent?

Finger numbness can be permanent in case of total nerve damage or compression. If you are suffering from a chronic disease like diabetes, it can be a contributing factor. Managing diabetes can help restore the hand and finger movements and reduce numbness. Early diagnosis can reduce the chances of permanent finger numbness.

How long does it take for nerve numbness to heal?

For nerve numbness, the healing depends upon the injury or the medical condition. Complete recovery can take 6-12 weeks if the nerve is damaged and not cut.

What medications can cause finger numbness?

Some of the medications that you take for the treatment of other medical conditions can cause finger numbness like Antibiotics, especially metronidazole (Flagyl), nitrofurantoin (Macrobid), and fluoroquinolones (Cipro). Some of the anti-cancer drugs like Cisplatin and vincristine also lead to numbness in hands or fingers. Anti-seizure drugs, e.g.phenytoin (Dilantin), can also lead to numbness. 

What exercises can help with finger numbness?

Some exercises that can help with finger numbness are wrist rotations, finger stretch, and thumb stretch, widely recommended by healthcare professionals for numbness and tingling in fingers. Other treatment options like medications and lifestyle changes are also recommended depending on the nature and severity of the medical condition. 

When should I worry about finger numbness?

Finger numbness usually goes on its own if caused by any muscle stretch. If any nerve compression causes it, it will stay persistent; you need to get a consultation for that! 
Your healthcare provider will determine and diagnose it appropriately. 

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Stino AM, Smith AG. Peripheral neuropathy in prediabetes and the metabolic syndrome. J Diabetes Investig. 2017 Sep;8(5):646-655. doi: 10.1111/jdi.12650. Epub 2017 May 3. PMID: 28267267; PMCID: PMC5583955.
  • Chopra K, Tiwari V. Alcoholic neuropathy: possible mechanisms and future treatment possibilities. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Mar;73(3):348-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2011.04111.x. PMID: 21988193; PMCID: PMC3370340.
  • Sevy JO, Varacallo M. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Sep 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448179/Sevy JO, Varacallo M. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. [Updated 2022 Sep 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448179/
  • Musa R, Qurie A. Raynaud Disease. [Updated 2023 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499833/
  • Davis DD, Kane SM. Ulnar Nerve Entrapment. [Updated 2023 Aug 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555929/

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