Causes and Treatments for Hand Numbness

Medically Reviewed By Angelica Balingit, MD
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Hand numbness usually occurs from a lack of blood supply to an area or damage to a nerve or nerves that supply the hand. The condition can result from carpal tunnel syndrome or a cervical disk problem. Hand numbness can also result from infection, inflammation, injury, and other abnormal processes. Most cases of hand 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 in the hand from sleeping on your arm with the elbow or wrist bent. Numbness can occur suddenly or progress slowly. Chronic numbness generally indicates damage to the nerves.

This article will explain the causes and treatments of hand numbness, including when to contact a doctor.

What causes hand numbness?

there is a hand holding ice
Guillermo De La Torre/Stocksy United

Hand numbness can be a symptom of various diseases, disorders, or conditions that restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves.

Temporary hand 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.

Hand numbness can also be due to orthopedic conditions that compress a specific nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disk disease in the cervical spine, and bony spurs.

Hand numbness may also include finger numbness or tingling. Pinky and ring finger numbness on the back and palm side of the hand can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm, possibly due to problems with the elbow joint.

However, the ulnar nerve can also become compressed at the shoulder, collarbone, or wrist. Numbness of the thumb, index, middle, and half of the ring finger are largely due to problems with the median nerve and may be the result of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Circulatory causes of hand numbness

Hand numbness can be the result of a 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 phenomenon (a rare disorder that narrows blood vessels in the fingers and toes when they are exposed to cold, or sometimes from stress)

Orthopedic causes of hand numbness

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

Neurological causes of hand numbness

Hand numbness due to nerve compression, injury, or damage may result from such conditions as:

Systemic causes of hand numbness, that is, conditions that affect the whole body, are rarer than those such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

What other symptoms might occur with hand numbness?

Hand numbness may occur with other symptoms or a combination 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 hand numbness can help your doctor make a diagnosis.

Symptoms that may occur along with hand numbness

Hand numbness may occur with other symptoms including:

  • burning feeling
  • cold hand or fingers
  • hand, arm, or finger pain
  • increased 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, hand 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:

When should you contact a doctor for numbness in the hands?

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

If you experience hand numbness with paralysis, confusion, hand weakness, or slurred speech, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911. If your hand numbness is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of hand numbness

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

  • Where are you feeling numb?
  • 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?

Learn about how doctors diagnose and treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

What are the potential complications of hand numbness?

Because hand numbness can be due to serious diseases, not seeking treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact a healthcare professional when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms.

Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow your healthcare professional’s treatment plan to reduce your risk of potential complications related to hand numbness, such as:

  • amputation
  • chronic pain
  • hand disability
  • loss of strength
  • paralysis
  • permanent loss of sensation

How is numbness in hands treated?

Treatment of numbness in the hands will depend on its underlying cause.

Your doctor may refer you to another specialist, such as:

If particular positions aggravate the numbness, you may find a wrist or elbow brace helpful.

Doctors may recommend shots of steroids to treat compression neuropathies.

If nonsurgical treatment has not been effective, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Sometimes, numbness can go away without treatment. Other times, nerve damage can be permanent. However, there will always be options to manage your symptoms. Discuss these with your doctor.

Learn about carpal tunnel release surgery.

Summary

Hand numbness is a condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in your hands. You may feel numbness over the palm, back of the hand, fingers, or a combination of these places.

Hand numbness is often associated with or preceded by pain-like pins and needles, prickling, or burning sensations called paresthesias.

While hand numbness is a loss of sensation, paralysis is a loss of movement, with or without the loss of sensation in the area.

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Medical Reviewer: Angelica Balingit, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 30
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