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What Are the Most Common Causes of Hand Pain and Numbness?

Hand numbness may be caused by nerve or muscle damage.
A model of a human hand.
Arthritis may cause hand pain and numbness.
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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 28 March 2014
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The most common cause of hand pain and numbness is nerve compression. The compression may be acute due to a sitting or sleeping position, or it could be chronic. Chronic pain and numbness can be caused by repetitive stress injuries, a growth in the wrist or hand, or a disease affecting the nerve tissue. Carpel tunnel syndrome, entrapment of the ulnar nerve, and peripheral neuropathy are examples of disorders that cause numbness and pain in the hand.

Many people have experienced a pinched nerve, and when this happens to the hand, it's often described as the hand falling asleep. The nerve compression is often accompanied by vein compression, limiting blood flow, and can usually be corrected by shifting position, causing a pins-and-needles sensation as the feeling is restored to the hand. Unfortunately, not all nerve compression is so easily remedied.

A very common cause of hand pain and numbness is carpal tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is the space in the wrist where the nerves, ligaments, and tendons pass from the arm to the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when tissue in this space becomes inflamed and presses against the median nerve. Nerve tissue is very sensitive, and when it is compressed, it can cause pain and numbness.

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The median nerve is what connects the thumb and first three fingers to the central nervous system. This allows the brain to control movement and feel sensations in the hand. The injury to the nerve occurs in the wrist, but the brain recognizes it in the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by repeated hand and wrist movements, such as typing, but it can also be caused by a wrist injury, like a fracture. Diabetes, arthritis, and even pregnancy can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

A less common cause of hand pain and numbness is entrapment of the ulnar nerve, also located in the wrist. The ulnar nerve controls movement and feeling in the last three fingers of the hand. These symptoms are typically caused by a foreign growth, such as a cyst or aneurism, that compresses the ulnar nerve tissue. The condition is most often caused by repetitive trauma, like from using a jackhammer. Arthritis, diabetes, and alcoholism are linked to an increased likelihood of developing nerve compression.

Peripheral neuropathy is another common cause of pain and numbness. This term describes disorders affecting the peripheral nervous system, which consists of the network of nerves that feed information to the spinal cord and brain, also called the central nervous system. It may be caused by diseased nerves or another illness. Alcoholism, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies can all cause peripheral neuropathy, but the most common cause is diabetes.

Pain and numbness in the hand may also be an indicator of a serious medical condition. Tingling, numbness, and pain in the left hand and arm are symptoms of a heart attack, although this condition is often also accompanied by other symptoms. Individuals who are experiencing these symptoms should contact a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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