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What Causes Hand Tingling? Your Symptoms Explained

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Last updated April 15, 2024

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Hand tingling in one arm is different from tingling in both hands. Tingling in one hand is a sign of pinched nerve caught between two bones or muscles. If the hand is placed under stress or repetitive use in the same position, carpal tunnel syndrome is a likely cause. More systemic causes like vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, or spinal cord damage often cause numbness in both hands. Last but not least, if there is tingling in the left hand that suddenly extends to the arm and jaw, this could be a sign of a heart attack. Below we discuss the main categories of causes, treatments, and prepared a free digital checker to help you narrow down the causes.

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Tingling in the hands explained

Hand tingling refers to the annoying, almost shock-like sensation that can travel all through the hands and fingers, and, sometimes, up to the neck or jaw. Some causes are quite benign and harmless, but others need treatment. Tingling in the hand, or elsewhere in the body, is sometimes called a "pins-and-needles sensation" or "falling asleep" of the hand.

Common characteristics of hand tingling

It's likely to experience the following.

  • A prickly, pins-and-needles sensation in the hand and fingers: This feeling often extends up to the arm to the neck and shoulder.
  • Unilateral or bilateral: Tingling may occur in one or both hands.
  • Numbness
  • Burning pain
  • Stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Weakness
  • Tightness in the forearm muscles

Who is most often affected?

The following people are more likely to experience hand tingling.

  • Desk workers: Or people who sit using a keyboard and mouse for several hours each day.
  • Anyone with damage to the nerves and/or the circulatory system

Are hand tingling symptoms serious?

The severity of hand tingling depends on the cause.

  • Not serious: A mild case of tingling, especially on waking up in the morning or that resolves quickly, is not serious.
  • Moderately serious: A more persistent case of hand tingling that begins gradually is a concern. Continued nerve damage can lead to permanent numbness and loss of sensation in the hands.
  • Serious: Tingling in only the left hand can be a warning of a heart attack, especially if the tingling begins suddenly and extends up to the arm and into the jaw.

What causes numbness and tingling in the hands?

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.

Most common causes

Hand tingling is most likely to occur due to the following.

  • Trauma: Direct trauma such as fractures, dislocations, strains, and sprains can cause this symptom.
  • Anatomic abnormalities
  • Nerve damage: Compression or entrapment of the nerves affecting the hand, including those in the cervical spine, or neck, can lead to hand tingling. A pinched nerve is when the nerve is caught under or between bone, cartilage, tendons, or muscles, and is under pressure. This pinch may be due to injury, repetitive use, or just sleeping in a "wrong" position. Poor posture, especially when sitting in front of a computer screen for long hours, can result in hand tingling. Stress and anxiety may cause subconscious tensing of muscles to the point of nerve or circulatory damage. Neurologic diseases or a tumor or carcinoma can also result in hand tingling.
  • Vascular (blood vessel) damage: This type of damage involves any condition that affects the radial and ulnar arteries, which supply blood to the hand. Hardening or inflammation of the arteries slows and blocks circulation. Dehydration can also affect blood vessels. Frostbite causes severe constriction of the blood vessels. Poor circulation can occur due to lack of exercise, and impaired circulation can be due to tight clothing.

Less common causes

Less common causes of hand tingling include the following.

  • Autoimmune disorders: An autoimmune response to a viral illness will cause hand tingling symptoms after the illness seems to be over. Almost any active autoimmune disorder can cause chronic inflammation.
  • Metabolic disorders: These disorders, such as thyroid disease and other endocrine diseases, interfere with nerve functioning,

Rare and unusual causes

Causes of hand tingling that are more unusual include the following.

  • Pregnancy: Being pregnant results in swelling that may compress the nerves in the wrists, especially when lying down.
  • Certain viral infections
  • Toxins: Ingesting metals through supplements or work exposure, antiretroviral drugs, and chemotherapy are all likely sources of toxins.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of B vitamins in the diet causes a form of anemia and neuropathy. Alcoholism is a specific cause of B vitamin deficiency and neuropathy.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Ulnar nerve entrapment of elbow

Ulnar nerve entrapment of elbow is also called cubital tunnel syndrome. The ulnar nerve begins at the spinal cord in the neck and runs down the arm into the hand. This very long nerve can become compressed, or entrapped, by other structures at certain points along the way. Entrapment often happens in the cubital tunnel, which is the narrow passage at the inside of the elbow.

The exact cause for entrapment may not be known. Fluid buildup and swelling inside the elbow; previous elbow fracture or dislocation; or leaning on the elbow for long periods of time can put pressure on the ulnar nerve inside the cubital tunnel.

Symptoms include numbness and tingling of the hand and fingers, sometimes leading to weakness and even muscle wasting in the hand.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-ray, and nerve conduction studies.

Treatment begins with wearing a supportive brace and adjusting activities to avoid further irritating the nerve. Surgery is usually not needed unless the nerve compression is causing weakness and loss of use in the hand.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand, pain in one elbow, pain in one forearm

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Thoracic outlet syndrome

The "thoracic outlet" is the space on either side of the base of the neck where nerves, arteries, and veins travel beneath the collarbone. If these become compressed or damaged, the condition is called thoracic outlet syndrome or TOS.

The most common causes are trauma, such as a car accident or fall; and repetition or overuse, such as a sports injury.

Symptoms vary depending on the structures being compressed:

  • Neurogenic TOS affects the nerves. It is the most common form and creates numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the arms, hand, and fingers.
  • Vascular TOS affects the arteries and veins. It creates the same symptoms as neurogenic TOS as well as cold, pale hands and arms with weak pulse.

It is important to see a medical provider about these symptoms so that the damage does not become permanent.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, imaging such as x-ray or ultrasound, and sometimes nerve conduction and blood flow studies.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain relievers, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, arm numbness, pain in one shoulder blade

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Pinched nerve in the neck

A pinched nerve in the neck is also called cervical radiculopathy. It means that a nerve in the neck, at a point where it branches off from the spinal cord, is being compressed by the surrounding bones, muscles, or other tissues.

It can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as from sports or an automobile accident, especially if the injury results in a herniated disk. It may also arise from the normal wear and tear of aging.

Symptoms include sharp, burning pain with numbness and tingling from the neck to the shoulder, as well as weakness and numbness into the arm and hand.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and simple neurological tests to check the reflexes. Imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be done, as well as electromyography to measure nerve impulses in the muscles.

A pinched nerve in the neck often improves with simply a few days or weeks of rest. Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections into the spine can all be very helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Panic or anxiety attack(s)

Panic disorder means a generalized set of symptoms involving sudden, unexplained feelings of anxiety and overwhelming fear. The physical symptoms are very real and consist of sweating, pounding heart, and shortness of breath.

The cause is not known. It may involve changes in brain chemistry that cause a person to perceive danger where there actually is none. Severe and ongoing stress, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be factors.

Panic disorder is most common among women. It can affect anyone, however, especially with a family history.

This condition does not improve on its own. If left untreated, the patient may become isolated and even suicidal.

A doctor will do a complete workup, including blood tests, to rule out any physical causes for the symptoms. A psychological workup will also be done.

The first line of treatment is talking with a professional who can help with coping and stress management. Medication, including some antidepressants and calming drugs, may be used temporarily but can cause dependence and unpleasant side effects if used for too long.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms:

Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s): anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Low calcium level

Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood and helps the heart and other muscles function properly. It is also needed to maintain healthy teeth and bones. Low calcium levels can cause bones to become brittle and more easily fractured. Parathyroid issues and vitamin D deficiency are common causes of this condition.

You should consider visiting a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. Low calcium levels can be evaluated with a review of your symptoms and a blood test. Once diagnosed, treatment depends on the cause of your low calcium levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Compartment syndrome

Acute compartment syndrome describes the damage done to certain muscle groups of the arms or legs after a traumatic injury.

All of the long muscles are bundled into sections – "compartments" – by the white sheets of strong, tough connective tissue called fascia. If something interferes with circulation so that blood flow is trapped within the compartment, pressure rises because the fascia cannot stretch. This causes serious damage to the muscles and other tissues within the compartment.

Acute compartment syndrome is caused by a broken bone; a crush injury; burns, due to scarred and tightened skin; and bandages or casts applied before an injury has stopped swelling.

Symptoms can rapidly intensify. They include severe pain and tightness in the muscle; tingling or burning sensation; and sometimes numbness and weakness.

Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency which can result in loss of the limb. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination.

Treatment involves hospitalization for emergency surgery and, in some cases, skin graft.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: arm numbness, hand numbness, foot numbness, pain in one leg, thigh numbness

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.

The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.

Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.

Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.

Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness and pain in the underside of the wrist and hand. It is caused by narrowing of the carpal tunnel passageway, which puts pressure on the nerve running through it.

Narrowing and deformity of the tunnel is most often from overuse, especially highly repetitive activities such as typing or working on an assembly line. Wrist fracture or arthritis can damage the carpal tunnel, and so can diabetes and obesity.

Symptoms include numbness and shocklike pain in the wrist, palm, and fingers. There may be weakness in the hand when trying to hold an object.

Carpal tunnel syndrome virtually always gets worse over time. Permanent damage may result, so it is important to be seen by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. X-rays or electromyography testing may be used.

Rest and cold packs to the wrist will reduce swelling. Wrist splints and ergonomically correct keyboards and other devices during work are often helpful.

Corticosteroid injections and surgery may also be tried.

B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency means a shortage of cobalamin, which is one of the complex of B vitamins.

Cobalamin, or B12, is needed to make DNA, nerves, and red blood cells, but the human body cannot make its own B12. It must be consumed in food or as a vitamin supplement.

B12 deficiency is most often seen among vegetarians, since this vitamin is mainly found in animal protein foods. Conditions that interfere with the body's ability to absorb vitamins from food can cause the deficiency, including Crohn's disease; taking proton pump inhibitors for heartburn; and any form of weight-loss surgery such as stomach stapling or gastric bypass.

Symptom include numbness and tingling in the hands; difficulty with coordination and walking; joint pain; jaundice (yellowed skin;) and shortness of breath.

If not treated, B12 deficiency can progressively worsen into memory problems, severe depression, and even paranoia or hallucinations.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and blood test.

Treatment simply involves supplementing vitamin B12, either with food choices, vitamin tablets, or B12 injections.

Treatment for numb,tingling hands

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 if you experience the following.

  • You experience sudden tingling in only the left hand: Hypertension or a heart attack may cause left-sided tingling.
  • You experience stroke symptoms: Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, and face, along with dizziness, headache, blurred vision, and slurred speech. These are symptoms of a transient ischemic attack, or "mini-stroke." This event is usually a warning sign of an impending stroke and requires immediate treatment.

When to see a doctor

See a physician if you experience gradual hand tingling that persists for days or weeks. Your physician may recommend the following.

  • Physical therapy: This treatment can relieve the pressure on a trapped or pinched nerve.
  • Alternative therapies: Acupuncture and therapeutic massage can soothe pain and improve circulation.

At-home treatments

You can try the following treatments for hand tingling at home.

  • Rest
  • Pain medication: Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to soothe pain, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
  • Use supportive devices: Use splints or padding to ease pressure on sensitive spots during activities.
  • Wear a brace: Choose a brace that keeps the wrist straight while you are sleeping.
  • Make adjustments: Adjust work stations and techniques used for weightlifting or other sports.
  • Make lifestyle changes: Exercise, sleep, diet, and stress management can improve overall fitness and circulation.

Questions your doctor may ask about hand tingling

  • What is your body mass?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body? (This is known as Spurling's test.)
  • Have someone feel for your pulse (at the wrist) on the side of your body that hurts. Now, turn your head to that side. Does the pulse go away? (This is known as the Adson's test.)

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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