Feelings of numbness – causes and treatment


If you no longer feel your earlobes or your skin does not react to touching them, we speak of numbness. Everyone of us knows them: When we sit at our desk for a long time and one foot “falls asleep” or when we are outside without gloves in frosty weather and our fingertips get cold.

Table of contents

Feelings of numbness – The most important facts
numbness and tingling sensations
What’s the problem?
Causes – The peripheral nerves
The central nervous system
Other causes
Causes summarized
The Diagnosis
circulatory problems
So when to see a doctor?
Cyclist paralysis
household remedies
Further sources
Feelings of numbness – The most important facts
Feelings of numbness and tingling are disturbances of sensitivity and sensation.
They occur especially on the arms, legs, fingers, toes, hands and feet, lips, nose, mouth or ears, i.e. on parts of the body that are difficult to reach by blood.
Lack of blood circulation is a common cause, but not the only one. There may also be nerve disorders, an imbalance of hormones or metabolic problems.
Other causes are skin diseases, allergies and alcohol, diabetes, herpes infections or slipped discs.
Although numbness often has harmless causes, you should be careful. The sensations are also an accompanying symptom of very serious illnesses. These include stroke and cancer.

Deafness and tingling
In cold weather, the vessels contract and only little blood reaches the “protruding” parts of the blood circulation such as fingers, toes, nose and ears. There the sensitivity decreases. If we now get warm, the vessels open, the sensation increases again, and we notice this as an unpleasant tingling sensation – as if we had needles under our skin.

This stabbing pain is caused by nerve endings in the skin, the nerve pathways pass it on, and then the brain emits the pain signal. So while numbness has to do with reduced activity of the nerves, it is more pronounced during tingling.

The tingling often follows feelings of numbness, but sometimes it also precedes them. Then the nerve tracts are overactive. The pain changes from often stabbing to burning. Even if numbness and tingling sensations are first confronted (once overactivity of the nerves, once underactivity), both are often connected: The nerve lines do not function normally.

The underactivity of the nerves, which is manifested by numbness, is what doctors call hypaesthesia. Nerves can be damaged at the respective points, a disturbed blood flow is not sufficient to supply a part of the body or a stroke paralyses the neuronal system of an entire half of the body.

What is the problem?
The centre of numbness can be located directly on the spot, as in the case of hypothermic hands, which become sensitive again when we hold them in warm water. But the starting point can also be far away from the place of the event, at switching points of the nerves. For example, tingling fingers can be caused by a damaged cervical spine.

Causes – The peripheral nerves
The immediate causes are usually nerve damage or problems with blood circulation. Numbness sensations often emanate from the peripheral nervous system, which also includes the sensory nerves that transmit sensations from the body parts to the brain. This nervous system can in turn be disturbed for a variety of reasons.

These include, for example, diseases such as diabetes, which cause an imbalance in hormone metabolism. Those affected have a high risk of developing nerve damage and circulatory disorders that lead to a lack of sensation.

Injuries are another cause. Injuries change the tissue around the peripheral nerves and blood vessels (bones, tendons, connective tissue, etc.) or the nerves and blood vessels themselves are wounded – or even torn. Then deafness occurs.

Third, ulcers, tumours or oedemas, cysts or abscesses can press on peripheral nerves and cause numbness.

The central nervous system
The central nervous system is located in the brain and spinal cord. As with peripheral nerves, inflammations, tumours, abscesses and other pathological changes cause nerves and vessels to be cut off or trapped. Here, in the control centres of the nerve impulses, nerve damage leads to numbness in distant parts of the body. This is particularly true for a stroke, i.e. a heart attack in the brain.

Other causes
The various causes of numbness also include skin diseases, frostbite, burns and external injuries. Even mental states such as anxiety attacks can (temporarily) cause numbness in the skin. The phrase “paralyzed with fear” sums this up.

Poisoning is associated with numbness. Poisonous snakes inject nerve or blood poisons, and some species even a combination of both. The toxins first cause numbness around the bite site, followed by paralysis and finally the tissue dies.

Chronic alcohol abuse also damages the nerves, and alcoholics know tingling fingertips as well as numb noses or numb toes. If the abuse persists, the damage to nerves and blood vessels can be seen in the bluish colour of the fingers, burst veins and red-blue noses.

Temporary numbness of the skin also occurs as a side effect of medication. These include antiepileptics and antihypertensives, as well as antidepressants. In the case of antihypertensives, the cause of deafness is clear: if the blood pressure drops, peripheral parts of the body are less supplied with blood and can therefore feel deaf. Although this is not pleasant, it is also not dangerous.

Causes summarized
In summary, there are important causes of feelings of numbness:

Circulatory problems,
pinched or severed nerves,
decreased nerve activity,
Herniated discs,
Vitamin B deficiency 12,

The diagnosis
The doctor first asks when and in which situations deafness occurs. Does it pass or is it chronic? Does it occur with concrete triggers or without context to external influences? Is it one-sided or two-sided? Is it changing, does it encompass ever larger areas, or does it remain the same? The doctor now checks the reflexes and senses, as well as the eyes and ears. If serious illnesses are suspected, specific examinations are necessary.

Circulatory problems
In the case of a circulatory disorder caused by cold, you usually know the cause yourself. If you step into icy water in wet and cold weather and walk around with your foot hypothermic, your blood vessels contract and your foot feels numb. This is not dramatic at first. If you get warm before your foot freezes, hold your foot (or hand, cheeks, ears, etc.) in lukewarm water and the blood will return, usually with a tingling sensation, as if you had ants under your skin. That’s no reason to go to the doctor.

If numbness on fingers or toes – or disturbed blood circulation – has no recognisable cause, you should see a doctor immediately. Serious diseases such as Raynaud’s disease or arteriosclerosis may be present.

Circulatory disturbances in the veins in the legs and brain are often manifested by a numb feeling. But beware: not having a numb feeling does not necessarily mean that the all-clear is given. With the most dangerous circulatory disorders outside the brain, those at the heart, you do not feel numbness, but the feeling of tightness in the chest.

So when to see a doctor?
You should definitely go to the doctor when the feelings of numbness begin without warning and with a recognisable cause, when they are strong, when they last long and when they are accompanied by other symptoms. Such symptoms may include: dizziness, fever, fainting, fatigue, hallucinations, drowsiness, nausea, irritation, poor concentration, persistent fatigue, blurred vision, rash or headache.

Signs of a stroke are sudden onset of numbness and paralysis on one side of the body, for example in the leg, arm, mouth or face. In addition, there are speech disorders such as visual disturbances and headaches. You must see a doctor immediately.

Cyclist paralysis
Not always, but often, the location of the numbness sensation indicates the cause. In the case of “cyclist paralysis”, cycling does not have to be the cause, but we notice it in a typical cyclist movement.
If the cyclist bends his wrists at the handlebars, a constriction may occur where the ulnar nerve becomes trapped. Almost every cyclist knows the following numbness in the fingers of the corresponding hand.

Numbness sensations are not a disease, but a symptom that can have various causes. Temporary numbness caused by incorrect postures such as “falling asleep” of legs in the subway or “cyclist paralysis” disappears automatically when you move these body parts again. If your feet or hands are numb, it helps to shake them vigorously.

If diabetes is the cause of numbness, the doctor will adjust the blood sugar to an optimal level. In the case of a numbness sensation caused by herpes viruses, the doctor treats the patient with an antiviral agent that slows down the proliferation of the viruses.

In the case of a herniated disc, the spinal column must be relieved. In addition, you will receive painkillers and medicines to relax the muscles.

Home remedies
If the numbness is caused by a disease, this basic disease must always be treated. The symptoms can also be relieved with home remedies, compresses, massages, walks and gymnastics.

Heat firstly strengthens the blood circulation and secondly relaxes the muscles in the affected area. If the respective nerves are better supplied with blood, their activity increases and the sensation of numbness decreases.

If nerves in the spinal column are affected, a warm washcloth in the neck or (with a pinched nerve further down) in the lumbar vertebrae will help. It should be a washcloth with warm water, because the wet heat penetrates the tissue better than dry heat. All you have to do is dip a rag in warm water, wring it out and place it on the appropriate spot for about five minutes. Repeat this several times a day until the numb feelings have disappeared. The emphasis is on warm. The water should not be so hot that you burn your skin.

Cherry stone filled and heated pillows, warm blankets or warm showers also help.

Massages have a similar effect to heat, stimulating blood circulation and nerves. You will often notice which nerve is affected. If not, you should also massage the lower leg, bottom and lumbar spine of a “deaf foot” and neck, forearm and hand of a “deaf hand”.

Rub a little warm oil (olive or mustard) into the palm of your hand, exert light pressure on the skin, knead the skin with your fingertips and let your hands circle on the skin.

A must for circulatory disorders. When we move, the oxygen gets back to all regions of the body, the blood circulation improves, muscles, nerves and connective tissue stick less. The affected nerve “learns” to function normally again.


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