Numbness is the loss of sensation in some area of the body. It can occur anywhere. It is often accompanied by tingling, sometimes described as a “pins and needles” feeling or a sensation of burning. Numbness indicates some sort of nerve pressure or involvement and may be from trauma, a complication of a disease like diabetes, or a neurological condition like multiple sclerosis. It can occur in a single nerve, a localized area like a hand or foot, or in larger areas of the body.
One of the most common causes of numbness is pressure on the nerve from sitting or standing in one position for a long time. Ongoing pressure can permanently damage the nerve. Nerve injury from trauma or disease can cause temporary or more permanent numbness. Viral infections from a herpes virus - like shingles - can damage nerves and cause numbness or pain. Circulatory problems, diabetes, vitamin deficiency, some medications, mineral imbalances, radiation therapy, insect bites, toxins, tobacco, and alcohol can also cause numbness.
The temporary numbness caused by sitting in one position or hitting the “funny bone” is no cause for concern. More generalized or severe numbness may be a sign of a stroke and requires emergency treatment. Numbness or tingling after a head, neck, or spine injury could signal a serious problem. Other causes for concern are an inability to move, changes in consciousness, or signs of stroke – like blurred vision – accompanied by numbness.
Numbness is a symptom rather than a disease, so treatment will always depend on the cause. Numbness from pressure on a nerve, like carpal tunnel syndrome or spinal cord pressure, may require surgery in some cases or be managed with conservative care in others. Numbness from a stroke requires emergency treatment. Circulatory problems may require lifestyle changes like smoking cessation or interventions to increase blood flow. Vitamin deficiencies may be corrected with better diet and supplements. Neurologists are trained to diagnose the cause of numbness and to provide medical management.
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