Feeling a needle prick in your fingers without being pricked? It must be troubling doing work or home chores. Understanding the correct cause of this tingling sensation in your fingers can help you get the proper treatment. It could be due to pinched nerves or an underlying health condition causing numbness in your fingers. Although, it is worrisome but treatable with the advice of your healthcare provider. Let’s dig into the possible causes and the diagnosis and treatment options for numb fingers.
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 there are noninvasive treatments that 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.
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:
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.
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.
Alcohol use disorders
Prolonged 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.
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 assist individuals struggling with alcohol use. In addition to abstaining from alcohol, treatment options may include pain medication, physical therapy, the use of splints or braces, and nutrition supplements, including vitamins E, B1, folate, and vitamin B12.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome arises due to compression of a central hand nerve caused by 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, pinching off nerves, and causing symptoms like finger numbness, tingling, and pain. 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.
Fibromyalgia primarily presents as diffuse, unexplained pain, but it can also manifest as finger numbness and various associated symptoms. Besides widespread pain, individuals with fibromyalgia often experience fatigue, cognitive difficulties, headaches, depression, and sleep disturbances. This chronic condition is believed to be linked to alterations in how the brain processes pain signals. Additionally, counseling, regular exercise, and stress reduction techniques can contribute to overall symptom management.
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.
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. 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 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 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.
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.
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.
Numbness in fingers can be due to medical conditions like shoulder injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain injury, Lyme disease, chemotherapy side effects, or 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.
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.
How is finger numbness treated?
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:
Some prescription medications can help manage neuropathic pain and numbness in fingers as:
- Antidepressants (Amitriptyline, Mirtazapine)
- Anticonvulsants (Gabapentin, Acetazolamide, Duloxetine)
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.
In some cases, surgical treatments may be necessary to address the root causes of finger numbness. Surgical procedures can involve the removal or repair of 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 play a crucial role in reducing discomfort and muscle tension. Examples include:
- To reduce muscle tension in the wrist, hand rotation ten times clockwise and ten times anticlockwise, along with gently spreading the fingers as wide as possible, helps.
- To relax muscles, move the shoulders five times clockwise and five times anticlockwise.
For carpal tunnel syndrome, consult a doctor to recommend personalized exercises that can help you improve your finger numbness. 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.
Talk to a doctor
Finger numbness should not be ignored, as 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
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.
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.
For nerve numbness, the healing depends upon the injury or the medical condition. It can take 6-12 weeks for complete recovery if the nerve is damaged and not cut.