Most of us have felt the pins-and-needles feeling in our hands and fingers known as paresthesia. But it’s usually a temporary condition caused by pressure on a nerve. This “falling asleep” sensation goes away once the pressure is released. However, another type of numbness in the fingers can signal serious health problems.
What causes numbness in the fingers?
Underlying issues related to finger numbness range from dehydration and overuse to spinal conditions or chronic illnesses. Some of the more common reasons include:
- Prolonged pressure on a nerve caused by repetitive motions that require holding an object in the hands, like a mouse, pen, or power tool, that pinches and damages nerves.
- Carpal (wrist) or cubital (elbow) tunnel syndrome
- Traumatic injuries or fractures of the hands or wrist
- Infection or inflammation in the hands or blood vessels (vasculitis) in the hands and fingers
- Spinal problems affecting cervical disks
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Nerve damage in the hands, arms, or neck
- Lyme disease
- Diabetes or high or low blood sugar levels
- Hardening of the arteries restricting blood flow
- Fibromyalgia, a condition causing widespread muscle pain and fatigue.
- Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon, or scleroderma
- Shingles or herpes infection
- Multiple sclerosis
- Severe anxiety or stress
- Vitamin D or B12 deficiency
- Alcohol use
Since there are so many causes, it’s helpful to chart each instance of numbness. Note which fingers tingle. Record when the sensation started, how long it lasted, the temperature, and what you were doing at the time.
Tingling and numbness in specific fingers point to different conditions.
For instance, thumb, index, middle, and ring finger numbness may point to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Frequent numbness in the ring and pinky fingers may be related to compression of the ulna nerve in the arm.
To make a correct diagnosis, your orthopedic provider will want to know more details.
Eight questions your health care provider may ask about the numbness in your fingers.
- Do fingers on both hands tingle and feel numb?
- What actions trigger numbness and tingling?
- When does the numbness feel worst?
- Do temperature changes cause numbness?
- Is there a correlation between your stress level and the onset of numbness?
- Does the numbness interfere with your daily activities?
- Do you have other health conditions, such as Lyme disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, Lupus, or MS?
- Have you ever experienced Raynaud’s phenomena?
A review of your symptoms, along with a physical exam, will help identify the cause. However, your orthopedic provider may order blood tests to measure thyroid function and vitamin and electrolyte levels to confirm the diagnosis.
If blood tests don’t reveal a cause, your orthopedic specialist may check to see what else is going on in your body. This may require the use of X-rays, Ultrasound, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the bones and soft tissues in your arm or back.
If you need further testing, the provider may order angiograms, electromyography, or lumbar punctures to check blood vessels, nerve responses, or other nervous system disorders.
When should I see an orthopedic provider or hand specialist?
An orthopedic hand specialist treats many conditions affecting the hands and fingers.
Visit an orthopedic provider or primary care provider if you experience tingling in your fingers that:
- Occurs frequently
- Becomes worse
- Lasts for more than a day
- Becomes increasingly hot and painful
- Wakes you up at night
Early treatment of hand and finger issues can help prevent long-term damage.
But, left untreated numbness in the fingers and the underlying causes could lead to permanent disability, loss of sensation and strength, chronic pain, paralysis, or amputation.
If you experience numbness and tingling in your hands, make an appointment to see Pamela Glennon, MD, Bone & Joint’s hand specialist. Dr. Glennon has the skill and expertise to diagnose and treat complex hand and finger health conditions. Dr. Glennon works closely with Jamie Hane, OTR/L CHT, a certified hand therapist to provide total hand care.
Call 911 at once if numbness or tingling begins suddenly or happens along with facial drooping, confusion, slurred speech, vision problems, difficulty breathing, dizziness, severe headache, weakness, rash, loss of bowel or bladder control. A combination of these symptoms can be life-threatenin