Numbness in hands and feet can be caused by several factors. Usually, it is a cry for help from various parts of the body, and is mostly associated with neurological disorders.
Feeling like needle pricks, numbness is a symptom that can indicate one of several diseases and disorders. Temporary numbness not accompanied by pain or changes in skin colour may be a normal response to cold temperature. However, if the numbness is extreme and lasts for several hours, it should not be ignored. Also recurring numbness can be a symptom of an underlying serious medical condition. Unless other symptoms are present, extensive testing and diagnosis may be necessary before the underlying cause of the symptom is uncovered. Let us take a look at the possible causes of numbness in the fingers and toes.
Vitamin B Deficiencies
Vitamin B12 is essential for maintaining healthy nerve cells. Also, called cobalamin, it is water soluble and cannot be stored in the body. Vitamin B12 plays an important role in a number of key body processes, but is especially crucial to red blood cell production, nervous system function, sperm production, normal growth and the proper function of the immune system. Vegans and vegetarians usually need to take vitamin B12 supplements. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause numbness in the extremities.
In diabetic patients, their sugar accumulates in the blood to a very high level. The excess sugar attaches to proteins in the blood vessels, changing their normal structure and function. As a result, the blood vessels become inelastic, making it hard for blood to flow through. In diabetic sufferers, the nerves that become damaged are those that sense temperature, pressure, texture, or pain on the skin. Therefore, most often affected are the nerves of the feet and lower legs, which become numb.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is actually a tight “hollow” extending from the forearm to the hand. It consists of wrist bones and a band of connective tissue called a ligament. The tendons running through the tunnel connect muscles to the bones so that you can move your hand and fingers. A nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel to reach the hand is called the median nerve. Repetitive motions of the hand and wrist can put too much pressure on this nerve causing tingling sensation or numbness. This is called carpal tunnel syndrome. Examples of such motions are excessive typing on the computer keyboard, sewing with a needle, driving a manual-transmission vehicle, assembly line work, painting and using hand tools that vibrate.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
The tarsal tunnel is the leg’s counterpart of the arm’s carpal tunnel. The former contains the tibial nerve. Anything that compresses the tibial nerve will cause tarsal tunnel syndrome which is characterized by numbness or pain around the ankle, toes or bottom of the foot. Prolonged walking, standing, a sprained ankle or diseases are the main culprits. A variety of treatment options are available ranging from surgery to orthotic devices to physical therapy, depending on the severity of the condition.
Mini Stroke or TIA
Often referred to as a mini-stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) can cause numbness of the hand and feet on either side of the body. A TIA is occurs when there is a temporary blockage of the blood vessels in the brain. The symptoms can last for up to 12 hours. Usual prescriptions for a TIA are anti-platelet medications to prevent platelets from clogging the blood vessels. Also, anticoagulant medications (eg, heparin or warfarin) are used to prevent the blood from clotting.
Multiple sclerosis is disease of the brain and spinal cord. Our body’s nerve cells are covered with a layer of fatty substance called myelin that helps to transmit nerve impulses. When this myelin sheath is inflamed or damaged, the transmission of nerve impulses is disrupted or slowed. The victims of this disease usually suffer from tingling and numbness in the fingers, arms and legs; blurred vision and loss of balance. What is the cause of the inflammation of the myelin is still unknown to doctors. Multiple sclerosis is incurable at this time but medications can help control the symptoms.
Numbness in the arm, shoulder or wrist that is accompanied by chest pain or tightness is usually a sign of angina. Angina is simply a lack of oxygen supply to the heart due to deposition of plaque in the arteries. The symptoms can last from five to 15 minutes. What is the difference between angina and a heart attack? Angina is the initial pain felt when the blockage of a blood vessel first occurs; when the condition is left untreated, and the heart muscle dies, the result is a heart attack.
Raynaud’s Syndrome is a condition when exposure to cold or stress causes the blood vessels in the fingers and toes to constrict, limiting blood flow. The affected areas turn white at first, then blue and feel cold and numb. An attack can last a minute to several hours. Apart from the fingers and toes, other areas of your body, such as nose, lips and ears can also be affected. This disorder can be traced to several possible causes such as: diseases of the arteries; consuming drugs that cause narrowing of arteries such as amphetamines and certain types of beta-blockers; arthritis; autoimmune conditions; and repeated injury to the hands or fingers. People afflicted with Raynaud’s Syndrome should give up smoking; avoid caffeine; relieve stress; stop medications that cause tightening of the blood vessels, and avoid exposure to cold in any form.
Having existed for more thousands of years, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation that affects the joints, such as toes and fingers. (An autoimmune disease means the body’s tissues are attacked by their own immune system). The exact cause of this disease is unknown, and it can affect other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms develop gradually, and they may vary from person to person. Pain and numbness in the joints of fingers, toes and knees are strong signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes, lumps called rheumatoid nodules appear under the skin near the joints. There is no cure for this disease. It is three times more common in women than men, and hereditary factor is one of its causes. Treatments usually entail a combination of drug and non-drug therapies. They include physiotherapy to relieve pain, alleviate stiffness, improve joint mobility and strengthen muscles. Drugs to stop the autoimmune process often complement the physiotherapy.
Also known as herniated disc, prolapsed disc, and ruptured disc, slipped disc always results in numbness of the fingers and toes. Discs are shock-absorbing pads between the bones of our spine. A disk may rupture, allowing its jelly-like contents to escape into the surrounding tissue. Actually, slipped disc is a misnomer as no disc has slipped out of place. A slipped disc affects the nerves, which in turn causes numbness in the parts above and below the injured area.
The lower back is a frequent “victim”, which results in pain and numbness in the legs and buttocks. The common cause of a slipped disk is frequent bending down from the spine. Other factors that trigger a slipped disc include degeneration of the discs due to aging; injury from improper lifting, especially if accompanied by twisting or turning; and over-strain in physical activities. Depending on the severity, treatment may range from surgery to physical therapy and massage, combined with anti-inflammatory drugs. A golden rule to avoid a slipped disc is to lift heavy objects with your legs and not your back.
Electrolytes are salts and minerals that conduct electrical impulses in the body. Among the common electrolytes are sodium, potassium and calcium. Electrolytes control the fluid balance of the body and are important in muscle contraction, energy generation, and almost every major biochemical reaction in the body. A sudden drop in the level of electrolytes due to dehydration can cause numbness and tingling in fingers and toes. Electrolyte imbalance can be remedied by taking oral rehydration salts.
Drug and alcohol withdrawal
When the body is suddenly deprived of the drug or alcohol, it must re-adjust to their absence. Among the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal are numbness of feet and hands.