Numbness in hands

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 3, 2015
StartSymptomsNumbness in hands

Numbness of the hands isn't just aggravating, it can be painful. It can also be a warning. Many illnesses, some very serious, have numbness of the hands as a symptom and shouldn't be ignored.


Definition & Facts

Numbness of the hands consists of loss of sensation in one or both hands. Lack of feeling can also be accompanied by a pins and needles sensation and/or a burning and tingling sensation. It is important to understand this condition isn't just a loss of feeling in the hands but can be painful as well. Numbness in the hands can affect the whole hand but also can just follow one nerve or follow a symmetrical pattern.


Diabetes is one of the major causes of numbness in the hands. Too much sugar in the blood causes nerve damage in the hands and feet. With diabetic neuropathy, the sensation starts in the feet and travels up the legs then hits the hands and travels up the arms. Along with lack of sensation is the feeling of being stuck with pins and/or a horrible burning feeling. Two-thirds of diabetics will suffer from neuropathy and sometimes this is the first sign to a person they have diabetes.

Thirty percent of the cases of peripheral neuropathy is unknown. In cases where the symptoms are caused by an unknown agent, the condition is called 'idiopathic'. The remaining 40% of cases can be caused by many issues. Nerve entrapment syndrome, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and injures to the nerves can produce both numbness and pain. Systemic disorders such as kidney disease, liver disease, vascular disease, chronic inflammation, or hormone imbalances can affect the nerves in the hands as well as other organs.

Alcoholism can not only lead to nerve damage, but the poor diets of those who are alcoholics often leads to vitamin deficiencies. However, anyone can have vitamin deficiencies and this is reason anyone can suffer from lack of feeling. Other problems such as poisoning by such toxins as heavy metals like arsenic or lead and other chemicals and infections in the body can cause loss of sensation in the hands as well.

When to see the doctor

Many illnesses, some very serious, can cause loss of feeling in the hands. Suffers need to go get immediate attention if the numbness begins suddenly and is accompanied by weakness or paralysis, confusion, problems speaking, dizziness, or severe headaches. These are signs your body has reached a dangerous level of illness and time is of the essence.

Not all numbness in the hands requires emergency intervention but there are still many symptoms which need an office visit. If aching begins and doesn't go away or gets worse it should be checked. If the pain starts to travel to other parts of the body, there could be a dangerous situation which a doctor needs to treat. If the numbness is on both sides, it isn't a simple issue and pain which comes and goes is also a sign of a lingering problem. If the pain occurs with certain actions there could be serious underlying injury.

Once in the office the doctor will do a physical exam and medical history. The doctor needs to know life and work history to determine possible chances for exposure or injury. Blood work is often needed to narrow down possible causes.

Treatment & Therapy

There are many treatments for lack of sensation in the hands. If the numbness is caused by diabetes, there are several ways to help. The most important way is by controlling blood sugar. When blood sugar is controlled there isn't any rogue sugar hurting nerves and causing pain. A doctor can help set up a life plan which will not only help the hands and the rest of the body as well. This plan will include controlling diet and adding an exercise plan to manage the diabetes.

For loss of feeling caused by other diseases, toxins, or infections the doctor will work to help the underlying illness. Injury to the hand can be helped to heal with a splint, surgery, or medication. Inherited diseases can not be cured and the only option is to treat the symptoms.

There are other remedies besides drugs and surgery. Massaging the hand and wrist can provide relief for various pains. Ice can be applied to the hand/wrist to numb the aches and heat is good to relax muscles. Stretching with curls and other motions can ease the hand and help return feeling. A physical therapist teaches exercises which can help. Acupuncture can also relieve suffering.

There are many vitamins which can help numbness and pain in the hand. Since vitamin deficiencies can cause the problem, the doctor can tell which vitamins to take to help the issue. There are herbs and vitamins to promote a healthy nervous system. B6 complex vitamins encourage nerve health and flax seed helps because it creates a good connection between nerve cells. Evening primrose and borage oil help a great deal, especially with diabetic neuropathy. For a topical rub to ease symptoms, cayenne pepper creme brings relief.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are many things you can do to prevent lack of sensation and pain. To prevent diabetes is a way to avoid painful diabetic neuropathy. To avoid developing diabetes, there are a few easy steps. Diabetes is warded off by diet and exercise. Also, a healthy diet provides plenty of vitamins to avoid deficiencies. A balanced diet also keeps the body healthy so other illnesses which can cause lack of feeling are not a problem.

Of course, it is necessary to avoid toxins in the environment, but one should also avoid toxins people consider acceptable. Alcoholism as mentioned before is dangerous, but smoking cigarettes filled with toxins can harm the body in many ways.

While numbness in the hands is aggravating and painful, it can often be treated. An office visit can give the doctor a chance to diagnosis the underlying condition and treat it, helping not only the hands but overall health as well.