Finger Numbness

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is finger numbness?

Finger numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation or tingling in your fingers. For instance, you may feel your fingers going numb after holding your arm in the same position for a long period of time.

Finger numbness usually arises from a lack of blood supply to an area or damage to a nerve or nerves that supply the hand, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome or a cervical disk problem. Finger numbness can also result from infection, inflammation, trauma, and other abnormal processes. Most cases of finger numbness are not due to life-threatening disorders, but it does occur with stroke and tumors.

Depending on the cause, the loss of sensation can disappear quickly, such as numbness from sleeping with your elbow and wrist bent that fades away once you move your arm around. Chronically numb fingers can be due to diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or peripheral neuropathy. Chronic finger numbness generally indicates some level of damage to the nerves.

Pinky and ring finger numbness on the back and palm side of the hand can be a sign of ulnar nerve compression in the arm. Numbness of the thumb, index, middle, and half of the ring finger may be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

Because a numb finger or numbness in general may be a symptom of a disease, disorder or condition, you should talk with your medical professional about any unusual sensations that last more than a few minutes.

If you experience finger numbness with paralysis, confusion, weakness or slurred speech, seek immediate medical attention (call 911) in an emergency facility. If your finger numbness is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.

What other symptoms might occur with finger numbness?

Finger numbness may also occur with other symptoms or combinations of symptoms. For example, numbness, tingling and itchiness in combination may be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Numbness due to a bulging cervical disk (in your neck) can be associated with extreme pain that extends down the shoulder, arm, hand, and certain fingers. Any symptoms occurring with finger numbness can help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Symptoms that may occur along with finger numbness

Finger numbness may occur with other symptoms including:

  • Burning feeling
  • Cold fingers
  • Hand, arm, or finger pain
  • Increased finger numbness or tingling while typing or writing
  • Itching feeling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Neck pain
  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
  • Rash
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Twitching

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, finger numbness may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Get immediate help (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, are exhibiting any of these life-threatening symptoms:

What causes finger numbness?

Finger numbness can be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders, or conditions that either restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves. Temporary finger numbness can be due to any activity that causes prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as fine motor activities (drawing), repetitive motion, and sleeping the wrong way on your arm. Finger numbness can also be due to orthopedic conditions that compress a specific nerve.

Numbness of the pinky finger and the ring finger together can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm, possibly due to problems with the shoulder, elbow, or wrist joint. Index finger numbness, along with abnormal sensations in the thumb and middle finger, is due to problems with the median nerve, which can be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, finger numbness is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.

Circulatory causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness can be caused by lack of blood flow due to such conditions as:

  • Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

  • Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon (a condition in which blood vessels in the fingers and toes become narrow when they are exposed to cold, or sometimes from stress)

Orthopedic causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that can lead to spinal or peripheral nerve damage including:

Neurological causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness caused by nerve compression, injury, or damage may be due to such conditions as:

  • Alcoholism

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)

  • Neuroma (noncancerous growth of nerve tissue) in the finger

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of finger numbness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your finger numbness including:

  • What fingers feel numb?

  • Is the palm or back side of the hand affected?

  • When did the numbness start?

  • How long does the numbness last?

  • Are there any activities that cause the numbness?

  • Are you experiencing other sensations, such as pain, burning or itchiness?

What are the potential complications of finger numbness?

Although numb fingers are rarely due to a serious disorder, the various causes of numbness can be associated with potential complications related to permanent nerve damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms.

If the numbness in your fingers is due to a repetitive motion, often simple lifestyle changes can alleviate the problem. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider to reduce your risk of potential complications related to finger numbness, such as:

  • Amputation

  • Chronic pain

  • Disability

  • Loss of strength

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Numbness and tingling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.  http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003206.htm
  1. Ulnar nerve entrapment. OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00069