Paresthesia Explained: Causes and Treatment
This article explains what paresthesia is, why it can happen, and when you should contact a doctor.
Paresthesia usually arises from nerve compression (pressure or entrapment) or damage. Paresthesia can be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders, and conditions that cause injury to the nerves.
Temporary numbness or tingling that disappears quickly can result from sitting with your legs crossed for a long time or sleeping on your arm in a bent position. Most people have felt this type of sensation.
Orthopedic causes of paresthesia
- a back or neck injury
- bone fractures or a cast that is too tight
- degenerative disc disease
- herniated disc
- nerve entrapment or nerve pressure, such as from carpal tunnel syndrome
Neurological causes of paresthesia
- alcohol use disorder
- arteriovenous malformation, or a tangled knot of arteries and veins that presses against the spinal cord and brain
- a brain tumor
- diabetic neuropathy, which refers to nerve or blood vessel damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes
- encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain due to a viral or bacterial infection
- heavy metal poisoning, such as lead poisoning
- multiple sclerosis (MS), which is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord
- peripheral neuropathy, which is a disorder of the peripheral nerves from your spinal cord
- shingles (varicella zoster), which can cause chronic pain or numbness long after the skin rash has resolved
- a spinal cord injury or tumor
- a stroke
- a transient ischemic attack, which causes temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke
- transverse myelitis, which is a neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord
- traumatic brain injury
- vitamin B12 deficiency, or pernicious anemia
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Because paresthesia can 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 or return.
If you experience paresthetic sensations with any of the following, seek immediate medical attention in an emergency facility (call 911):
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Treatment for paresthesia will depend on the underlying cause. In most cases, effectively treating the primary condition will result in relieving the secondary symptoms of paresthesia.
Temporary paresthesia as a result of sitting for extended periods of time or sleeping in an awkward position will typically resolve once you change positions or move around.
Treatments for orthopedic causes of paresthesia
- braces or splints to stabilize and temporarily immobilize a strain or sprain that is causing numbness
- long-term immobilization to allow for healing of neck or spinal fractures that may result in paresthesia
- medications such as cortisone injections to relieve pain and inflammation caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve compression, or a herniated disc, which may also relieve numbness caused by those conditions
- physical therapy and exercise to strengthen muscles and relieve symptoms — including paresthesia — associated with a herniated disc, osteoporosis, or bone and muscle injuries
- surgery such as carpal tunnel release or spinal fusion to address severe pain and numbness caused by nerve compression and entrapment
Treatments for neurological causes of paresthesia
Paresthesia can be a symptom of a serious neurological condition. Doctors may address these underlying conditions with treatments including:
- alcohol misuse rehabilitation to treat alcohol use disorder, which can lead to alcoholic neuropathy, a complication of alcohol misuse that results in nerve damage
- chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy to treat brain tumors that may be causing paresthesia symptoms
- diabetes treatment and management — including diet, exercise, insulin, medications, and weight loss — to prevent the progression of diabetic neuropathy, which is a complication of diabetes that causes nerve damage, most often in the legs and feet
- endovascular embolization to treat an arteriovenous malformation that is putting pressure on the spine, resulting in paresthesia
- medications, including drugs originally prescribed for seizures, stroke, or depression
- multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment and management — including complementary therapies, medications and physical therapy — to address paresthesia symptoms of MS
- surgery such as carotid endarterectomy or aneurysm repair to treat or prevent stroke, which can cause paresthesia and other nerve symptoms
- vitamin B12 supplements to address numbness caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency
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Preventing paresthesia begins with managing your risk factors for the underlying conditions that can cause paresthesia symptoms. Although you cannot control all health risk factors, such as hereditary conditions, you can work to reduce the risk factors that you can control.
Some steps you can take to reduce your risk of orthopedic or neurological conditions that can cause paresthesia include the following:
- Avoid alcohol or drink it in moderation: This can reduce health risks including high blood pressure, liver disease, and alcoholic neuropathy, which is a complication of alcohol use disorder.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet: Eating a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol can help reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Getting a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12 and calcium, can also help prevent vitamin deficiencies and osteoporosis.
- Exercise often: This can help improve muscle strength and flexibility, which reduces pressure on bones and joints and lowers the risk of strains, sprains, and fractures.
- Maintain a moderate weight: This can ease pressure on bones and muscles and reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can lead to a complication called diabetic neuropathy that causes numbness, most often in the legs and feet.
- Move positions often: Avoid temporary numbness from sitting in an awkward position for too long or chronic paresthesia due to repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Wear protective equipment: During athletics or other high impact physical activities, wear the correct equipment to prevent or reduce orthopedic injuries that could result in nerve compression or nerve damage. Such injuries include neck or back strains, sprains, or fractures.
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The following are some other commonly asked questions about paresthesia.
Is paresthesia a neuropathy?
Is paresthesia a symptom of MS?
How long should paresthesia last?
Paresthesia due to a cause that is not concerning, such as a trapped nerve from sitting in one position for too long, should be temporary and resolve when you move positions.
If you have paresthesia that comes and goes regularly and does not change when you move positions, seek medical help.
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Paresthesia is the medical term for a feeling of tingling and numbness in the body. Some people refer to it as a pins-and-needles sensation.
Many people experience the occasional bout of paresthesia, often due to remaining in the same position for a long time, such as while sitting down or riding a bike. However, if you notice that you are experiencing a tingling sensation persistently or it feels severe or concerning in any way, seek medical help.
Treatments for paresthesia will depend on its underlying cause. Causes can include orthopedic causes and neurological causes.