A numb feeling in the extremities can be caused by a variety of factors.
Causes of Numbness
Nerves allow the body to feel sensation. Sometimes, though, they can experience tingling, a cold feeling, or even numbness. This is especially true in the extremities of the body: the hands and feet. One cause of numbness in the extremities might be a B12 deficiency. B12 is a vitamin that is necessary for metabolism, central nervous system functioning, and forming red blood cells. Pernicious anemia is a condition where red blood cells are lacking, due to a B12 deficit. Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands are some of the symptoms of this deficiency. Another cause of numbness could be a herniated disk. The vertebral bones have cartilage pads between them called disks that provide shock absorption. If a disk is herniated, the nerve becomes compressed, leading to pain and eventually “numbness and weakness…in the limbs, extremities, shoulder, neck, and chest”. Herniated disks are caused by injury, lifting, or age. Blood clots can block arteries and cause a “transient ischemic attack”, which is another potential cause of numbness. These attacks are stroke-like, but without the permanent symptoms associated with stroke.1 A benign reason behind numbness or tingling is standing or sitting in the same position for too long. There are several other causes, as well, such as shingles, frostbite, abnormal potassium, sodium, or calcium levels, medications, nerve damage from tobacco, alcohol, or chemotherapy, animal or insect bites, or seafood toxins. There are also many medical conditions that can lead to numbness and tingling, including migraines, multiple sclerosis, seizures, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, stroke, and an underactive thyroid.2 Peripheral vascular disease is another potential cause of numbness; in this disorder, plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the extremities. When the spinal column narrows, as in spinal stenosis, nerve compression may also result. A pinched nerve in the spine is called radiculopathy. Peripheral and diabetic neuropathy are other complications that can result in nerve damage.3
Treatments for Numbness
Depending on the cause, patients will need to seek appropriate treatment for the numbness. If it is vitamin-related, doctors may prescribe supplements. If diabetes is the cause, controlling blood sugar is important. Sometimes medications need to be changed. In certain situations, such as when a nerve is pinched, exercises could be recommended.4 Lifestyle changes may be important, to prevent tingling in the feet and hands, such as weight loss, eating a balanced diet, limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking, and engaging in regular exercise.5 Chiropractic treatment may benefit some patients with neuropathy. Chiropractors can perform adjustments as well as offer electrical muscle stimulation, vibration therapy, thermal modalities, and concentrated oxygen. They can teach patients about repetitive motions and stress, offer ergonomic advice, and provide exercise and nutritional help. Chiropractors could teach patients about self-massage, or even recommend a massage therapist, in order to stimulate nerves, relieve pain, and improve circulation.6
Find out more about tingling in the extremities.