Numb Hands: Why Does it Happen?

Numb hands can be a result of a simple issue, like the cold, or it can be a symptom of a serious illness. In this article, we'll explain what you should know.
Numb Hands: Why Does it Happen?

Last update: 06 December, 2020

Numb hands can be a frequent and uncomfortable sensation. The body part affected becomes rigid or inflexible, and you’re likely to have pins and needles.

It’s often a reason to visit the doctor. The problem is that its origin is very varied, and, as such, it can be complex to reach a correct diagnosis. In this article, we’ll explain everything that you should know about numb hands and which cause is most common.

What happens when you have numb hands?

Numb hands, as we’ve explained, is a change in the sensitivity and movement in this part of the body. The sense of touch is distorted and it isn’t easy to move your fingers.

On many occasions, in addition to pins and needles, you may feel a sense of burning or tingling. Depending on the cause of the numbness, it may only be located in the fingers, on one hand, or both.

A reason for numb hands may be the cold, which is quite common and usually doesn’t have any lasting consequences. However, according to a study conducted in Sweden, the most common pathology is carpal tunnel syndrome. This investigation explains that 1 in every 5 people that experience this symptom are probably affected by this syndrome.

A hurting hand.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common cause of numb hands.

Causes of numb hands

Numb hands can be caused by many different reasons. A systematic pathology that occurs in the upper limbs, or an injury to the nerves (from compression or damage, for example), can lead to feeling this sensation.

However, it’s there may also be a change in the brain or the spinal bone marrow, since both are organs that coordinate feeling and mobility. That said, these injuries are usually more serious and present obvious or disabling symptoms.

Metabolic or infectious illnesses, as well as certain medical treatments, can lead to this situation. In the following sections of this article, we’ll explain in detail what the main causes of this problem are.

Brain and nervous system conditions

Any pathology that affects the nervous system, and, in particular, damages the area related to the hands, can cause numbness. For example, Guillain-Baré syndromeIt’s a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerve’s cells.

According to a study published in the Postgraduate Journal of the Vla Cátedra de Medicina, numb hands is one of the diagnosable symptoms. Cervical spondylosis is also related to this since it involves the invertebrate discs wearing away, which is where the nerves that go to the extremities start their journey.

Damaged caused by trauma or excessive use

In this category, we find carpal tunnel syndrome as a key cause. It’s where the median nerve is compressed; a nerve that goes from the forearm to the fingers. This causes wrist pain, numbness, cramps, and pins and needles.

Although it’s the main cause, some other syndromes and injuries also lead to this feeling. For example, cubital tunnel syndrome. Here a different nerve is compressed. The same happens when the brachial plexus is damaged after an accident.

The final mechanism ends in a common pathway that is tightened or compressed. The brain misinterprets the signals that come from the compressed neurons and sends signals of tingling, pain, and even paralysis to the hands.

Infectious illnesses that cause numb hands

Lyme disease is an infection that you can get from the bite of certain ticks. According to the Centers for the Control and Prevention of Illnesses, if you aren’t treated in time, it’s likely that you’ll experience numb hands.

Another infectious pathology that can cause this symptom is syphilis. Similar to the previous illness, if you delay your treatment, it damages the nervous system as it develops.

Chronic disorders

Many disorders can result in nerve damage. The result of such disorders will be feeling and mobility changes. Diabetes is one of the most important and common. It produces diabetic neuropathy that, according to the University of California, is directly linked to numb hands.

Alcohol consumption, amyloidosis, and multiple sclerosis are also chronic processes that affect the superior members. Although cancer is not the most typical ailment that causes this, chemotherapy treatment uses a combination of pharmaceuticals that may produce adverse side effects.

A woman with a sore hand.
Among the least common causes of numb hands, we have ganglia and vasculitis.

Other possible causes of numb hands

An anecdotal fact pins the blame on the ganglions. These are cysts that frequently appear on the joints, like the wrist. If they grow too much or press on a nearby nerve, they lead to numbness.

On the other hand, vasculitis restricts the blood flow to the palm of the hand and fingersVasculitis causes inflammation of the artery walls that subsequently reduces their capacity. This, therefore, means that less oxygen reaches the tissues, which causes damage.

When should we visit a doctor?

If you notice numbness in your hands, you must visit a medical professional. They should be able to carry out a physical examination and complementing tests to reach a diagnosis.

As we’ve seen, the causes are varied, and it’s possible that, at first, there may not be a clear resolution. It may take several different approaches to clarify which disorder affects you. But don’t worry, the majority of causes have a solution.

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