Numbness, or parasthesia, is a marked decrease or loss of sensation in the skin often accompanied by a tingling feeling in the nerve endings. Among the many causes of numbness are poor circulation, standing or sitting in one position for long periods of time, pressure or injury to nerves in the back neck and extremities, and serious health conditions like strokes and heart attacks. Numbness can also be caused by some medical treatments themselves, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and some drug and alcohol treatments.
In most cases, occasional numbness can be attributed to physical pressure on an area of the body. This numbness can be relieved simply by switching position and moving around more often. It’s common for people to experience numbness from sitting or standing at work for long periods of time, or by crossing the legs while sitting. This numbness is sometimes referred to as a limb “falling asleep,” though it is really a temporary loss of blood supply. Getting up to stretch or changing positions will generally restore sensation in a matter of minutes.
Other causes of numbness can include a past injury to the bones, ligaments, and nerves of the back, spine, neck, and extremities. This is common when someone experiences a serious physical accident, such as a car accident or a sports injury. It is also common to develop numbness from repetitive use of the hands, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome. Numbness of this variety can often be handled with a careful course of medical care, which can include muscle relaxers, massage, exercise, and physical therapy. In addition, chiropractic care has been shown to reduce numbness when other treatments don’t work well. Cases that are more serious can be corrected with surgery.
Numbness can also be caused by cancer treatment and vitamin deficiencies. A physician can suggest treatments to alleviate the symptoms of numbness on an individual patient basis. In some cases, however, the causes of numbness are hard to treat and patients may have to learn to live with this annoying feeling for long periods of time. This is especially true for patients receiving radiation treatment, getting medical care for a drug or alcohol problem, or suffering from an injury too severe for surgery and medication.
The most serious causes of numbness include a heart attack or a stroke. This type of numbness generally begins on one side of the body, then it quickly radiates to the other side of the body as the nervous system tries to protect vital organs. Patients experiencing this type of numbness should seek immediate emergency care. The numbness caused by a stroke can linger for many months and even years following this incident.