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Tingling (numbness): causes, treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 196 views

Tingling is a most unpleasant subjective sensation that can have a variety of reasons. The most common cause of tingling and other abnormal sensations such as burning or numbness is damage to peripheral nerves (polyneuropathy). It can occur, for example, as a late consequence of diabetes and alcoholism. Read here what causes tingling can still have and what can be done about it.

quick overview

  • Causes of tingling: e.g. B. Clamping or constriction of a nerve (e.g. in the case of a herniated disk, carpal tunnel syndrome ), magnesium deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, cold sores, contact allergy, cold, restless legs syndrome, varicose veins, Raynaud’s syndrome, migraine, fibromyalgia, stroke, etc.
  • What to do with tingling? Sometimes you can do something yourself, e.g. B. with antiviral agents for cold sores or with appropriate nutrient preparations for vitamin or mineral deficiencies. In other cases, medical help is advisable or necessary.
  • Tingling – when do you need to see a doctor? When the tingling comes on for no apparent reason, recurs frequently, gets worse, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as paralysis

Tingling: what is behind it?

Those affected often experience tingling as if they were touching a nettle or as if ants were crawling over the skin . Tingling is one of the so-called abnormal sensations (paresthesia). These are unpleasant and disturbing sensory impressions that occur either spontaneously or with gentle touch stimuli. In addition to tingling, the abnormal sensations also include burning, a furry feeling, tingling, electrifying pain and numbness.

The causes of the tingling are often harmless, for example legs that have “fallen asleep” after squatting for a long time. The annoying symptom then disappears on its own after a short time. Sometimes, however, there is a disease behind it that may require treatment.

Below you will find the most common causes of tingling – separated by affected body region:

Tingling in arms, fingers, hands

  • Body part that “falls asleep”: For example, if you lie on your side for a long time and your torso presses heavily on the arm underneath, it can “fall asleep” – the load squeezes small nerves in the arm and disturbs blood circulation. This is noticeable, among other things, with a tingling in the arm, which usually goes away on its own.
  • Constriction of the median nerve: This carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve (central arm nerve) becomes pinched in the carpal tunnel, a narrow passage in the wrist area. This often triggers pain, tingling and/or numbness on the fingertips (exception: little finger) and possibly also on the palms and forearms. Affected people often wake up at night with their hands “fallen asleep”.
  • Constriction of the ulnar nerve: Like the median arm nerve, the ulnar nerve can also be trapped in the area of ​​the elbow (sulcus ulnaris syndrome). As a result, tingling and numbness occur on the little finger and ring finger, and later possibly hand paralysis up to the “claw hand”. Ulnar sulcus syndrome can develop, for example, if someone often leans on their elbows or makes repetitive movements with their elbows.
  • Elbow dislocation: If the elbow hurts badly, swells and can no longer be moved after a fall on the outstretched arm, it is probably an elbow dislocation. In some cases, it also causes numbness or tingling in the forearm or hand.
  • Raynaud’s syndrome: Numb fingers that tingle and turn white (pale) suggest Raynaud’s syndrome . This leads to paroxysmal, painful vascular cramps, which result in a temporary lack of blood flow to the fingers (rarely the feet). After the fingers have turned white due to a lack of blood, they subsequently turn blue and – as soon as the vascular spasm resolves – finally red.
  • Magnesium deficiency: An undersupply of the mineral magnesium can cause muscle cramps, tingling in the hands and feet and cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Potassium excess: Too much potassium in the blood can cause, among other things, abnormal sensations such as tingling in the feet and hands as well as muscle weakness and impair breathing .
  • Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Tingling hands/feet can be a sign of a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency. Other possible deficiency symptoms include anemia and gait disorders.

Tingling in toes, legs

  • Feet/legs that have “fallen asleep”: After a long period of unfavorable lying or sitting (e.g. cross-legged or with one leg crossed), the “pinched” part of the body can feel numb and tingle due to the pressure on nerves and blood vessels. As with the “sleeping” arm (see above), this is usually harmless and disappears on its own after a few minutes, at the latest after a few hours.
  • Syndrome of restless legs (restless legs syndrome): Those affected feel a deep-seated tingling, twitching and a violent urge to move in the legs (sometimes in the arms). At rest – especially in the evening and at night – the symptoms of restless legs syndrome worsen , for example the tingling in the leg increases.
  • Constriction of the shinbone nerve ( tarsal tunnel syndrome ): Here the shinbone nerve is pinched in its course through the tarsal canal (formed by the talus, heel bone and inner malleolus). This can happen after an ankle or foot injury. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and/or pain at the inner edge of the foot, which occurs particularly at night and with physical exertion. Sometimes the pain radiates to the sole of the foot and calf.
  • Metatarsalgia: The term refers to load-dependent pain in the area of ​​the metatarsus that is due to overloading of the metatarsal, for example with splayfoot or bunion ( hallux valgus ). Those affected complain of attack-like, burning or electrifying pain and/or tingling on the forefoot, usually between the third and fourth toes.
  • Varicose veins (varicose veins): Heaviness, pain, itching and/or tingling in the leg – more precisely in the lower leg – can be caused by varicose veins .
  • Disease of the peripheral nervous system (polyneuropathy): The peripheral nerves include those in the legs. For example, they can be damaged as a late consequence of diabetes or alcohol addiction, which leads to a feeling of coldness, pain, burning, tingling and/or numbness in mostly stocking-like extent on both lower legs and feet.
  • Herniated disc: Tingling or numbness around the anus or on the leg can be caused by a herniated disc . In addition, there is often pain, muscle weakness or paralysis in an arm or leg with back pain .
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal: Spinal canal stenosis can cause the same symptoms as a herniated disc, such as tingling and/or numbness around the anus or in the leg, muscle weakness or paralysis in an arm or leg. In addition, such complaints can also indicate a vertebral fracture or vertebral slippage ( spondylolisthesis ).
  • Pantothenic acid deficiency: The vitamin pantothenic acid is contained in almost all foods, which is why a deficiency rarely occurs. But if that happens, the deficiency manifests itself in gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, numbness and tingling and stabbing pains in the feet.
  • Flaccid paralysis: Certain nerve disorders (polyneuropathies) and other conditions such as polio and muscular dystrophy (hereditary muscle wasting) can lead to flaccid paralysis. It is characterized by a waddling gait with bilateral weakness or paralysis of hip and/or leg muscles; sometimes the shoulder, arm, or face muscles are also affected. There may also be tingling and/or numbness in the legs.

tingling in the face

  • Rhinitis: When a cold and an allergic rhinitis start, itching and tingling in the head or nose can occur in addition to runny nose, urge to sneeze and obstructed nasal breathing. The same applies to the so-called vasomotor cold, which can be caused by cold, alcohol, hot drinks, stress or excessive use of nose drops.
  • Contact allergy: Redness, burning, tingling and/or numbness in large areas of the mucous membrane of the mouth or in the whole mouth could indicate a contact allergy (e.g. to toothpaste, food coloring or medicines).
  • Cold sores (herpes simplex): A herpes infection in the area of ​​the lips manifests itself in a blister-like rash. Even before the blisters form, the infection usually makes itself felt through tingling or burning of the lips.
  • Panic attack: Some sufferers experience a panic attack with a tingling sensation around the mouth, often accompanied by chest tightness, rapid breathing and great anxiety.
  • Migraines: When this severe headache hits, some sufferers experience numbness or tingling in their face, among other things.

Other causes of tingling

  • Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS): The term includes all symptoms in which pressure in the upper chest damages or affects nerves or blood vessels. Possible signs of TOS are, for example, alternating pain, tingling and numbness on the outside of the shoulder, often also on the arm and hand. Certain movements and postures, such as turning your head or overhead activities, can trigger the symptoms.
  • Epileptic seizure: So-called simple-focal seizures occur in a narrowly defined, limited area in the brain and do not cause any clouding of consciousness (in contrast to complex-focal seizures). Depending on the brain region in which the seizure occurs, sensory disturbances such as tingling and “pins and needles” are possible.
  • Fibromyalgia: This chronic pain disorder is characterized by deep muscle pain, often accompanied by stiffness, burning, tingling or numbness. The back, chest, neck, arms and legs are often affected by the latter two symptoms.
  • Stroke: One-sided numbness, tingling in an arm or leg, possibly accompanied by paralysis, can indicate a stroke.

Tingling: what to do?

If a disease requiring treatment is the cause of the tingling, a doctor will and must draw up a suitable therapy plan (see below). Sometimes you can also do something yourself against the annoying tingling, for example:

  • Dab: If burning or tingling on the lips announces cold sores, you should react immediately. Proven home remedies are the repeated dabbing of dried or fresh red wine as well as pads with oak bark, St. John’s wort, sage or witch hazel tea. Prepare such teas for herpes prevention twice as strong as a tea for drinking. For tingling on the lips, you can also apply propolis, mint essential oil or tea tree oil (diluted).
  • Inhalation : If a cold is announced by tingling in the nose, sneezing and dry nasal mucosa, you can often prevent the outbreak of the disease with an inhalation: Put one tablespoon each of chamomile blossoms and sage leaves and three to ten drops of eucalyptus oil in a bowl with one liter of hot Water. Inhale the rising vapors through your nose and mouth alternately for ten minutes, covering your head and upper body with a towel over the bowl.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not improve or even get worse despite treatment, you should always consult a doctor.

  • Globules and Schuessler salts: If a cold or hay fever causes a tingling in the nose and other symptoms, homeopathy recommends the remedy Sinapis nigra (black mustard ), for example. Suitable Schuessler salts for the onset of a cold with sneezing and tingling in the nose are, for example, No. 3 Ferrum phosphoricum D12 (for a red, sensitive and irritated nose and slight fever) and No. 4 Potassium chloratum D6 (for pale white nasal secretion, blocked nose, stick cold). ).

The concepts of Schuessler salts and homeopathy and their specific effectiveness are controversial in science and not clearly proven by studies.

  • Vitamins: If a vitamin deficiency (vitamin B12, pantothenic acid) causes the tingling, you should adjust your diet: There is a lot of vitamin B12 in liver, meat, fish, milk, eggs and in plant foods that are produced by fermentation (such as sauerkraut). . Good sources of pantothenic acid are liver, muscle meat, fish, milk, whole grains and legumes.
  • Magnesium: If the tingling is due to a lack of magnesium, you should increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods such as whole grain products, milk and dairy products, liver, poultry, fish, various types of vegetables and potatoes.

Tingling: when to see the doctor?

Tingling is usually harmless, for example in the case of limbs that have “fallen asleep” or as a harbinger of a mild cold. In the following cases of tingling, however, you should see a doctor to have the cause clarified:

  • new tingling sensations for no apparent reason
  • persistent, often recurring or worsening tingling
  • Tingling accompanied by other symptoms (e.g. numbness, muscle weakness or paralysis)

Tingling: what does the doctor do?

The doctor will first inquire in detail about your medical history (anamnesis). For example, he will ask you how long the tingling has existed, whether it occurs more frequently in certain situations and whether there are other symptoms. This information often gives the doctor clues as to what the cause of the tingling could be.

Various examinations can then confirm or eliminate the suspicion. These include, for example:

  • Physical exam: This is routine when patients come to the doctor with unexplained tingling or other symptoms.
  • Blood tests: A blood analysis can, for example, reveal a lack of magnesium or vitamin B12, but also an excess of potassium as a trigger for tingling.
  • Orthopedic examination: This is indicated, for example, in the case of diseases of the spine as a possible cause of tingling, such as a suspected herniated disc or a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis).
  • Imaging procedures: X-rays , nuclear spin tomography (magnetic resonance imaging, MRI) and computed tomography (CT) can be useful as a trigger for the tingling if there is a suspicion of a herniated disc, a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) or epilepsy . A special ultrasound procedure, Doppler sonography, is used for a more detailed examination of varicose veins.
  • Neurological tests: As part of neurological examinations , the doctor uses various tests to check the functional and conduction status of nerve tracts. This is important when the tingling could be due to a pinched nerve – such as a herniated disc, carpal or tarsal tunnel syndrome.
  • Measurement of nerve conduction velocity: With electroneurography (ENG), the doctor measures how quickly peripheral nerves (e.g. in the arms or legs) transmit information. The result can indicate nerve damage that causes the tingling (e.g. in polyneuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome).
  • Measurement of electrical muscle activity: Electromyography (EMG) measures the electrical activity of muscle fibers.
  • Measurement of brain waves: If epileptic seizures are possible triggers of tingling, the doctor can use electroencephalography (EEG) to analyze the electrical activity in the brain.
  • Allergy test : If the doctor suspects a contact allergy behind the tingling, a patch test ( patch test ) can provide certainty.

If the doctor has been able to find out what is causing the tingling, he will suggest a suitable treatment if possible.

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