Pins and needles (also known as paresthesia) is an abnormal sensory condition in which you feel a sensation of burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or prickling.
Paresthesia can also be described as a pins-and-needles or skin-crawling sensation. Paresthesia most often occurs in the extremities, such as the hands, feet, fingers, and toes, however, it can occur in other parts of the body. Temporary numbness or tingling that disappears quickly can occur from sitting with your legs crossed for a long period of time or sleeping on your arm in a bent position; therefore, this is what most patients feel regarding pins and needles.
Chronic paresthesia or intermittent paresthesia over a long period of time is generally a sign of neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage. Paresthesia typically arises from nerve damage due to infection, inflammation, trauma, or other abnormal processes. Paresthesia is rarely due to life-threatening disorders (note: whereas ‘paresthesia’ is a loss of sensation, the distinction and difference to ‘paralysis’, is that paralysis normally involves both a loss of movement and the loss of sensation).
Causes & Symptoms of Pins and Needles
There are a large number of pins and needles causes, both for temporary paresthesia and for chronic paresthesia. Because of the wide variety of potential causes, diagnosis often has to rely on other symptoms. Here are some causes linked to both temporary and chronic pins and needles:
- Temporary pins and needles – In addition to a manually compressed nerve, temporary paresthesia may be caused by Whiplash, panic attacks, seizures, dehydration, hyperventilation, circulatory disorders, and repetitive motion.
- Chronic pins and needles – Chronic pins and needles may be caused by infections, systemic diseases, hereditary disorders, toxic exposure, and medications.
Other common causes include:
- Nutritional deficiencies
Pins and needles’ sensations can be described in many ways, including tingling, numbness, itching, and burning. Paresthetic sensations may be accompanied by pain and other symptoms depending on the part of the body that is affected. Any associated symptoms can be helpful for your doctor to make a diagnosis.
Symptoms that may occur along with pins and needles include:
- Frequent urination
- Increased paresthesia while performing a task
- Muscle spasms
- Sensitivity to touch
In severe cases, pins and needles may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These serious symptoms include:
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of vision
- Paresthesia following a head, neck, or back injury
- Slurred speech
Who gets Pins and Needles?
Some risk factors that increase the risk of experiencing pins and needles are:
- Obesity – Being overweight can put pressure on nerves.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome – When the small tunnel that goes from your wrist to your lower palm gets too narrow. That narrowing causes pressure on your median nerve. Pain and numbness in your forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers can follow.
- Gender – Women are more prone to get carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly due to a narrower nerve carnal.
- Thyroid disease – This can put a patient at risk for pins and needles leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This causes inflammation, which can also compress nerves in the joints.
- Overuse – People who have jobs or hobbies that require repetitive motion of the hands, elbows, or feet are at a higher risk for paresthesia or nerve damage.
- Lack of vitamins – Low levels of some vitamins, especially vitamin B12, which is important for nerve health.
Some medications may cause pins and needles in some patients, including chemotherapy, antibiotics, medicines that treat HIV, and treatments for seizures.
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
Because pins and needles can be due to a nervous system disease or nerve damage, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your healthcare provider when you experience any kind of abnormal sensation due to paresthesia. It is recommended to seek treatment and reduce your risk of potential complications such as:
- Chronic pain
- Permanent loss of sensation
- Permanent pain
- Inability to breathe normally
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
To diagnose pins and needles, a doctor will first take a medical history and ask further questions about your symptoms. Next, the doctor will likely perform a physical examination and, depending on the findings, may recommend imaging tests, including:
- Electromyography (EMG) – To look at the electrical activity of how nerves and muscles interact.
- Nerve study – This measures how fast nerve impulses travel in the muscles.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – This can be used to look at the different areas of the body in high detail.
- Ultrasound – This is used to produce images of the body, this can be applied to smaller areas to look for nerve compression or damage, such as occurs in carpal tunnel syndrome.
The type of test that the doctor prescribes will depend on the results of these imaging tests, including a patient’s symptoms and medical history.
Treatment for pins and needles will depend on the underlying cause. In most cases, effectively treating the primary condition will result in relieving the secondary symptoms of pins and needles. Temporary paresthesia caused by sitting for extended periods of time or sleeping in an awkward position usually will resolve once you change positions or move around to find a more comfortable position.
When pins and needles symptoms are caused by an orthopedic condition or injury, treatments include:
- Braces or splints – This is used to help stabilize and temporarily immobilize a strain or sprain that is causing numbness.
- Immobilization – to allow for healing of neck or spinal fractures that can result in pins and needles.
- Medications – Such as cortisone injections, to relieve pain and inflammation caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve compression, or a herniated disk, which in turn may also relieve numbness caused by those conditions.
- Physiotherapy – to strengthen muscles and relieve symptoms, including paresthesia, associated with herniated disks, osteoporosis, or bone and muscle injuries.
Pins and needles can be a symptom of a serious neurological condition. Doctors may address these underlying conditions with treatments including:
- Radiation therapy – to treat brain tumors that may be causing paresthesia symptoms.
- Alcohol abuse rehabilitation – to treat alcohol addiction, which can lead to alcoholic neuropathy, a complication of alcohol abuse that results in nerve damage.
- Diabetes management – including diet, exercise, insulin, medications, and weight loss, to prevent the progression of diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that causes nerve damage, most often in the legs and feet.
- Vitamin B12 supplements – to help address numbness caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. This can result from pernicious anemia, a condition in which the body does not absorb enough vitamin B12 to produce a normal amount of red blood cells, which can lead to nerve damage.
- Endovascular embolization – to treat AVM (arteriovenous malformation) that is putting pressure on the spine, resulting in pins and needles. Doctors may also use stereotactic radiosurgery, a procedure that uses focused beams of radiation, to treat AVM.
- Multiple sclerosis management – including complementary therapies, medications, and physiotherapy, to address paresthesia symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.
If these treatments do not relieve the symptoms, surgery may be needed to reduce the pressure on pins and needles. Surgery can mean releasing the carpal ligament, removing a bone spur, or even part of a herniated disk in the back. The type of surgery will depend on the specific symptoms a patient experiencing, as well as their cause.
Preventing pins and needles begins with managing your risk factors for the underlying conditions that can cause pins and needles symptoms. While you cannot control all health risk factors, such as hereditary conditions, you can work to reduce the risk factors you can manage.
Steps you can take to reduce your risk of neurological conditions that cause pins and needles include the following below:
- Avoiding alcohol consumption – to help reduce further health risks including high blood pressure, liver disease, and alcohol neuropathy, a complication of alcohol addiction.
- Eating a heart-healthy diet – low in fat and cholesterol, reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. A balanced intake of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12 and calcium, can also help prevent vitamin deficiency and osteoporosis.
- Exercising – Some exercises are performed to improve muscle strength and flexibility, which reduces pressure on bones and joints and lowers the risk of strains, sprains, or fractures.
- Maintaining a healthy weight – to ease pressure on bones and muscles and to reduce risk of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes, which can lead to a complication called diabetic neuropathy that causes numbness, most often in the legs and feet.
- Moving different positions more often – This is done to avoid temporary numbness caused by sitting in an awkward position for too long or chronic paresthesia caused by repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Supportive equipment – Use supportive equipment during athletic or other high-impact physical activities, to prevent or reduce orthopedic injuries, such as neck or back strains, sprains, or fractures, that could result in nerve compression or nerve damage.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Many natural and traditional remedies are used to focus on easing pain and curing the conditions linked to pins and needles. Here are some effective home remedies to enhance nerve functions and treat tingling sensations:
- Essential oils – Essential oils include the ability to cure neurological problems like tingling in the hands and feet. Lavender essential oil is valued as one of the best oils for treating tingling sensation as it possesses potent anti-inflammatory and analgesics properties that help to alleviate nerve pain and repair nerve damages. Regular massaging with lavender or cypress essential oils helps to repair nerve damage and restore the functioning of the nerves.
- Massage therapy – Massage therapy works wonders in lessening the constant tingling sensation in the hands and feet. Massaging stimulates the nerves, enhances blood circulation, and restores normal nerve functioning thereby facilitates maintaining nerve health.
- Warm compression – Warm compression is one of the best way to fix and promote blood circulation in the affected hands and feet. Giving warm compress promotes blood circulation and improves the functioning of the nerves and aids in treating the tingling sensation.
- Epsom salt – Epsom salt contains notable amounts of magnesium which help to lower the inflammation in the body. It works by restoring affected and inflamed nerves causing the tingling sensation.
- Rest – It is recommended to get adequate rest while you restrict constant movements. Move around every 30-60 minutes if you have been sitting for a longer duration.
- Stretches – Do stretching exercises regularly like shoulder rotation, neck raises, bends, and ankle-toe movements to enhance blood circulation.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV) – The potent anti-inflammatory effect and vast reserves of acetic acid content in apple cider vinegar help to restore and repair damaged nerves. Additionally, the richness of vital nutrients in ACV boosts energy and speeds up the recovery process.