Numbness or tingling (paresthesia) can be an annoying, temporary issue or a chronic problem that interferes with daily activities. Many occurrences are not a serious cause for concern, and symptoms will go away on their own. However, persistent episodes of numbness or tingling may require medical intervention.
Numbness and tingling are most often felt in the extremities- the arms, legs, hands, or feet. There are many different causes of these symptoms. Some are as simple as sleeping in one position for too long or sitting with crossed legs for an extended time. The symptoms are usually remedied quickly by changing positions. Other common causes include some types of medication, a vitamin deficiency, and even pregnancy. Numbness and tingling may also be signs of a more serious medical condition or disorder. Examples of this include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, and stroke.
Anything that puts pressure on a nerve can cause numbness or a “pins and needles” sensation. A nerve may be compressed due to an injury, a herniated disc in the spine, or inflammation and swelling around a nerve, as in carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, a tumor that places pressure on a nerve may also cause these symptoms.
Consulting a Physician
When is the appropriate time to seek medical help for tingling or loss of feeling in an extremity? Sometimes these symptoms resolve on their own within a short time, making a doctor visit unnecessary. If symptoms continue to be bothersome, and there is no obvious cause, it may be time to seek a medical diagnosis. If there is significant pain or swelling in the extremity, consult a physician. Additional reasons to see a doctor would be when the symptoms interfere with normal routines, or the person is experiencing dizziness, confusion, problems with balance, inability to walk or move, or loss of bladder or bowel control.
Getting a Diagnosis
The physician needs to determine what underlying issues are the cause of the symptoms. An examination will include looking at a patient’s medical history, noting what medications and supplements are used, and determining whether there have been any recent accidents, injuries, falls, or illnesses. The severity and length of time the patient has experienced the symptoms is important to determine as well. Additional diagnostic tests may be ordered including blood work, x-rays, thyroid profile, CT scan, CT myelogram, or an MRI. A primary care physician or internist may refer the patient to a specialist such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon for consultation.
Treatment depends on what is causing the symptoms. If disease has been ruled out, surgical or non-surgical interventions may be recommended. Non-surgical options can include physical therapy, pain management, and pharmacological pain management. Physical therapy may concentrate on exercises that strengthen muscles and improve flexibility. Ultrasound treatments, ice or heat therapy, electrical stimulation, and dry needling may be helpful in relieving the patient’s symptoms.
Surgery may be the best option to treat some conditions causing numbness and tingling. If the problem is the result of spinal stenosis, or narrowing, in the cervical or lumbar spine, a neurosurgeon may be able to perform a minimally-invasive surgery such as a laminectomy to relieve the nerve compression. Small incisions and the use of specialized surgical instruments allow patients to heal faster and sometimes go home the same day as the surgery. Physical therapy may be prescribed as a follow up to surgery.
If the symptoms of numbness or tingling are severe and being caused by a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease, a spinal fusion may be recommended. A lumbar fusion would decrease pressure on nerves running through the lower extremities, and a cervical fusion would relieve pressure on the nerves affecting the arms and hands.
If you suffer from numbness or tingling in your extremities, contact the specialists at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care. Our team will recommend the best treatment options for your particular condition.