When we experience the usual 'pins and needles' sensation in our hands or feet, we tend to assume that part of the body has 'fallen asleep'. What does 'pins and needles' or 'fallen asleep' mean in medical jargon? Does this condition indicate some underlying health issue that we need to address? Pins and needles means paresthesia in medical terms. It is the sensation of tingling, prickling and numbness felt on the skin of the affected part. One does not feel any physical effect or sensation on this part for a few seconds to a few minutes. In most cases, paresthesia is a transient condition, that is, has temporary effect. However, there are a few cases, where this condition turns chronic.
What is Arm Paresthesia
Arm paresthesia and pain is not a very common complaint. It is usually a temporary abnormality that occurs in the arm. This condition is due to an injury to the arm, nerves, or is related to some disease like diabetes, spinal damage as well as multiple sclerosis. There are five nerves that pass through the vertebra of the lower neck into the shoulder and travel down to the arm. These nerves are called brachial plexus, and help supply sensory and motor nerve impulses. When arm paresthesia occurs, it is referred to as brachial plexopathy.
Arm paresthesia is caused by a number of factors that affect the nerves and blood supply to the arm. Some of these possible causes include:
Any kind of injury or trauma that causes the nerves in the arm to stretch, tear or get damaged leads to paresthesia. These injuries can result from an accident, fall or a sports activity. As mentioned above, these nerves travel down the shoulder into the arms. Thus, trauma to these nerves can lead to arm paresthesia and shoulder pain as well.
Pressure on the nerves may occur when a person sleeps on the wrong side or puts pressure on the arm when asleep. This causes pressure on the nerves and thus causes temporary pinching of the nerve. As a result when the pressure is released, it leads to arm paresthesia and pain. Nerve damage may even occur due to an infection like Lyme disease, neurological disorders, frostbite, etc. Herpes zoster virus attack can also cause numbness and paresthesia during the onset of shingles.
Reduction of Blood Supply
Poor blood circulation due to peripheral vascular disease (PVD) can lead to paresthesia in the arms. The plaque build up in the artery walls leading to atherosclerosis, or blockage of the arteries, can lead to reduction in blood supply. When the blood supply reduces, the nerve cells are unable to send signals to the brain. This leads to feeling of tingling and burning in the arms.
There are a certain other conditions that can lead to arm paresthesia. These conditions include:
- Transient ischemic attack
- Motor neuron disease
- Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus
- Poor posture
- Lifting heavy weights
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Migraine attack
- Vitamin deficiency such as Vitamin B5 and B12
- Spinal disc herniation
Arm Paresthesia: Symptoms
Now, the arm paresthesia symptoms are very simple and straightforward. The constant tingling, burning, prickling, numbness in hands indicates paresthesia. This tingling sensation on the skin resolves on its own after some time, or when the body position is changed.
Experiencing arm paresthesia and pain occasionally, does not indicate much to worry about. However, chronic paresthesia is a cause of concern and one should seek medical investigation for further diagnosis. The treatment for paresthesia of the arm depend on the underlying causes. In case of inflammatory conditions, one will be given anti-inflammatory medication and diuretic drugs. A pinched nerve or pressure on the nerve can be treated by physiotherapy and traction. In case of diabetes, the patient will be asked to keep the blood sugar levels under control.
Chronic arm paresthesia and pain are mostly symptomatic indications towards an underlying health condition. If one experiences arm paresthesia continuously, they should speak to their doctor for further evaluation.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and does not in any way attempt to replace the diagnosis of a doctor. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.