Why Are My Hands Numb? -- Causes and Top10 Natural Remedies
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Why Are My Hands Numb? -- Causes and Top 10 Natural Remedies

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February 28, 2012

By ALISON TURNER, Contributing Columnist

All of us have felt it at some point --your hand going numb or "falling asleep". Tingling, numbness, prickling, skin crawling, pins and needles - these are all variations of "paresthesia," the sensation that can be felt in any part of the body, including the hands and fingers, that happens without warning and is usually painless (think about what it feels like when we cross our legs for too long, for example) .  While numb hands can be temporary (perhaps from falling asleep on top of your hand), so that the sensation disappears when pressure is relieved, the numb, tingly feeling could also be a symptom of something more serious. What causes your hand to go numb? What medical conditions cause numb hands? Are there any natural remedies to help?

What Causes Tingling in the Hands and Fingers?
If your fingers or hands feel numb for a long amount of time, or on a regular basis, it could be a symptom of a number of diseases or conditions with the nervous system, ranging from stroke to multiple sclerosis. 

How Do I Stop the Pins and Needles?

Because paresthesia of the hands and fingers could be from a number of different neurological problems, treating the symptom depends largely on the underlying condition. 

Here are 10 causes of numbness in the fingers and hands, and recent studies conducted in hopes of treating those conditions:

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is compressed.  In addition to numbness in the hand, symptoms include tingling and pain that could extend up the arm to the shoulder.  

Risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome include the female sex, repetitive use of the hand (frequent typing, for example), obesity, diabetes, and arthritis.  Treatment options range from splints on the wrist to local steroid injections to surgery.  

In 2008, specialists from various associations in Santiago, led by Renato J Verdugo with the Department of Neurology at the University of Chile,  compared the efficacy of surgical treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome with types of non-surgical treatment using the data of 317 patients.  Results showed that surgical treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome relieves symptoms "significantly better" than splinting, though results were inconclusive on the effectiveness of steroid injection.

If surgery is a realistic option for your situation, rest assured that the data is in your favor for positive results. 
2.  Raynaud's Phenomenon.  Raynaud's phenomenon (RP) is a response to cold in which vessels spasm and block the flow of blood to the fingers, toes, ears and nose, and is characterized by color changes, pain and a "fullness" sensation in the fingers (which could also be described as numbness or tingling). 

Raynaud's penehnomenom occurs in 1% to 22% of people depending on the population's climate and occupational trends, and is more common in women than in men.   Other risk factors include diseases of the arteries such as atherosclerosis, drugs that cause narrowing of the arteries, arthritis, smoking, repetitive motions such as typing or playing the piano, and frostbite.

Several lifestyle changes could alleviate symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon, such as avoiding smoking and caffeine, keeping the body warm, and avoiding medications that tighten the blood vessels. 

Exposure to certain chemicals can also cause numb hands. In 2011, Gordon Purdie with the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, and colleagues from other departments at the same university,  found an association between RP and exposure to organic solvents in laboratory workers.  Data from 341 participants, including their use of solvents and any symptoms of Raynaud's phenomenon, showed that workers working with xylene, toluene, acetone or chlorinated solvents had higher rates of severe RP than lab workers using other chemicals. 

The report concludes that "exposure to solvents may be associated with the development of RP." 

So, if your fingers have a numb sensation and show a change of color, especially when exposed to the cold, consider whether or not you are exposed to the above-mentioned solvents.  They may be to blame.

3. Stroke. Numb hands can be an early sign of stroke.  There are two kinds of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic.   When the blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly interrupted because a vessel is blocked by a clot it is called an ischemic stroke, whereas bleeding into or around the brain because of a burst vessel is referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke. 

Symptoms of stroke include sudden numbness or weakness (including in the hands), particularly on one side of the body, confusion, sudden trouble with vision, and a sudden headache.

Stroke prevention involves treating risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes.   If a stroke has already occurred, treatment focuses on any disabilities that have resulted because of the stroke, such as problems with cognition, emotions, and speech, and feelings of numbness in the hands and feet, which are exacerbated by movement and temperature changes.

In 2010 Dr. Lung Chan with the Division of Neurology with the Department of Internal Medicine in Ban-Ciao City in Taiwan found that early diagnosis of stroke is one of the best first steps towards treatment.  The study was conducted in Taiwan, where stroke is the third most common cause of death. 

What they found after examining 241 stroke patients was that an "extremely low percentage of Taiwan stroke patients had received proper treatment" after an ischemic stroke, largely because of the "time it takes the patient to recognize the stroke symptom and seek proper treatment."  The report concludes that shortening the "prehospital delay" between symptoms and arrival at the hospital would "save more patients."  Numb hands should always prompt your doctor to check you for other signs of stroke.

4.  Multiple Sclerosis.  Numbness and tingling of your hands can indicate multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, which protects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, this slowing or stopping certain nerve signals.  MS affects women more than men, and is most common between the ages of 20 and 40.  Symptoms vary widely, from numbness and tingling in certain areas, including the hands, to muscle spasms, problems walking, bowel and urinary problems, difficulties with vision, decreased attention span, depression, and fatigue.  

The cause of MS is unknown and there is no known cure.  However, there are therapies that are used to slow the disease and methods to control symptoms.  In 2008 a group of specialists from several cities in Germany, including S. Schwarz with the Central Institute of Mental Health at the University of Heidelberg in Mannheim,  studied the effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine in people with MS via surveys from 1573 participants.  The most frequently cited types of alternative medicine was diet modification (41%), which largely meant the supplementation of Omega-3 fatty acids.  When compared with conventional therapies, complementary and alternative medicine "rarely showed unwanted side effects."


5. Syringomyelia.  Syringomyelia is damage to the spinal cord because of the formation of a fluid-filled area within the cord.  This formation could be a result of trauma to the spinal cord, tumors in the area, or birth defects such as the "chiari malformation," wherein part of the brain pushes onto the spinal cord at the base of the skull.

Symptoms of syringomyelia include atrophy of muscles, headache, numbness or decreased sensation (including in the hands or fingers), and weakness, though some people have syringomyelia without any symptoms. After diagnosis, treatment includes preventing further damage to the spinal cord and maximizing functioning.  Surgery could be performed to relieve pressure in the spinal cord, and physical therapy may be used to maximize muscular function.

In 2011, researchers from the University of Wisconsin, the Pediatric Neurosurgery Center of Central Texas, and the University of Utah, including Dr. Bermans Iskandar with the first,  surveyed the treatment practices by neurosurgeons used for Chiari malformation with syringomyelia.  The responses of 72 participating neurosurgeons revealed that 85% of neurosurgeons perform posterior fossa decompression  surgery on children with Chiari malformation and syringomyelia, though their preferred techniques differed.  The research team deems the procedure the "preferred technique" for syringomyelia in children.
If your child suffers from syringomyelia and his or her pediatrician has not mentioned fossa decompression surgery, it might be worth it to mention the 85% statistic.

6. Exposure to Bromopropane Can Numb Your Hands. Bromopropane is a solvent used for dry cleaning, vapor decreasing, auto parts cleaning, and electronic parts manufacturing.  You may also see bromopropane labeled as 1-BP, n-proply Bromide, or nPB.  Bromopropane has increasingly been replacing perchloreothylene (PERC) in dry cleaning businesses.  1-BP can be harmful to workers when it is breathed in directly or makes direct contact with skin, and can even cause permanent nerve damage.  Symptoms of over-exposure to bromopropane include an irritated respiratory tract, confusion, poor coordination, and numbness in the hands or feet.  

In 2008, Dr. Judith Eisenberg and Jessica Ramsey with the New Jersey Department of Health conducted a Health Hazard Evaluation on four dry cleaning facilities that had converted from perchlorethylene to bromopropane for cleaning.  

Finally, the report advises that if your workplace uses bromopropane and you experience any of the symptoms, including numbness in the hands, to tell your healthcare provider that you work in 1-BP conditions, as that knowledge could change the diagnosis of your symptoms. (Read more about jobs that can damage your health.)

7. Type II Diabetes.  Type II diabetes is a common cause of numb or tingling hands.  In type II diabetes either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin, so that sugars cannot be broken down to be used for fuel.  Not only does this result in less fuel for the body, but it can also mean that glucose builds up in the blood because it is not going to the cells, potentially leading to further complications.  

In addition to tingling or numbness in the hands or feet, symptoms of type II diabetes include blurred vision, slow healing of cuts and bruises, and recurring infections. (Read more about diets that can help you control diabetes.)

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