By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Feeling your arm go numb is a scary occurrence. Suddenly you are left with no feeling or sensation in your arm. Often you will feel pain before the arm goes numb, other times the numbness seems to creep up on you without warning. What conditions can cause a numb arm? Is a numb arm the sign of something serious? Do certain conditions cause only your right or only your left arm to become numb? If your left arm is numb, does that mean you are having a heart attack or stroke?
Numbness in your arm is typically caused by the compression of a nerve, the irritation of a nerve or an injury to a nerve - also known as a pinched nerve.
Nerves carry information to and from the brain and when they are pinched their signal is cut or weakened. If the nerve is pinched in the elbow or arm you feel numbness in the arm, hand or wrist. A herniated disk in the neck, cubital tunnel syndrome, or an injury to the arm can cause a pinched nerve. Sometimes a numb arm can be caused by conditions affecting your brain or your spinal cord.
And sometimes a numb arm can be the sign of a stroke or a heart attack. Read on to find out the causes of a numb arm.
Causes of Pain or Numbness in Your Left Arm
There are very few, if any, conditions that only affect the left arm or that only affect the right arm. Normally, whether your right or your left arm is numb depends on where the affected nerves are located in your body. That said, arm numbness and pain signifying a heart attack is more commonly associated with the left arm, according to the American Heart Association.
Here is a list of the Top 10 reasons your arm may go asleep, and what you can do about it:
1. Too Much Sugar in Your Blood Sugar Can Make Your Arms Numb and Painful
High levels of sugar in your blood can damage the nerves which lead to your arms, hands and feet, causing numbness.
This is called diabetic peripheral neuropathy and it is a serious consequence of diabetes. There are a number of remedies that show promise for the treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
One such promising treatment uses "acetyl-L-carnitine", also known as ALCAR. ALCAR is a modified form of carnitine, which itself is derived from the amino acid lysine. ALCAR occurs naturally in your body and helps you to burn sugar as an energy during intense exercise.
Two 2005 studies from Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan looking at over 1,200 people suffering from the condition showed that use of ALCAR, especially at doses of 1,000 mg a day, improved the feelings of numbness and decreased pain levels.
If you're looking to use ALCAR to decrease numbness in your arm, you can easily find it as a supplement in most health food stores. You can also increase the amount of ALCAR in your diet by eating a but more red meat, in particular mutton. (Read more about foods that help to control your blood sugar.)
2. A Heart Attack Can Cause a Numb Left Arm
A heart attack is serious, obviously, and it can also be difficult to spot. Sometimes a heart attack victim will experience just one symptom - like a numb or painful left arm - other times the sufferer will report chest pain, nausea, numbness and shortness of breath. A heart attack can be signaled by any of these symptoms as well as possibly discomfort in the neck, back, and jaw; lightheadedness or dizziness; vomiting and fatigue.
The chest pain or discomfort of a heart attack is typically characterized by a feeling of fullness, pressure, or pain in the center or the left of the chest, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. This feeling sometimes radiates to the left arm, making it feel numb or painful. It's important to remember that a numb right arm can also be a sign of a heart attack. (Read more about unusual symptoms of a heart attack, from heart attack survivors.)
Causes of Pain or Numbness in Your Right Arm or Your Left Arm
3. Treat Arm Numbness Caused by Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy with Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is not very well known in the US but it has been studied and used extensively for many decades as a supplement in Japan. Very tiny quantities of lipoic acid are found naturally in many foods, especially meats.
Lipoic acid is believed to help treat the arm numbness that is caused by the side effects of diabetes. Oral lipoic acid was found to be beneficial for treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy and arm pain by a 2006 study from the Diabetes Center of Heinrich-Heine University in Germany. In the study, researchers gave 181 people either a placebo or 600 mg, 1,200 mg, or 1,800 mg daily of lipoic acid.
After 5 weeks, all of the participants who had taken lipoic acid experienced much less arm numbness. You should take away from this study that even a small dosage of lipoic acid --- say 600 mg a day for 5 weeks --should help to improve the numbness in your arm.
Lipoic acid may be even more effective if it is combined with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, black currant oil and borage oil. A 1993 study from UMDS, London, UK looked at 111 people over one year on gamma-linolenic acid and found that pain and numbness caused by diabetic peripheral neuropathy improved, and that people with effective blood sugar control improved the most.
What foods are high in lipoic acid? Dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli as well as organ meats such as chicken livers.
4. If Your Arms Get Numb or Tired When You Hold Them Up, Special Stretches Can Help
Do your arms feel tired when you hold them overhead, for example when you blow dry your hair? Do your arms feel worse in the morning in the early hours before you get out of bed? if so, you could have "thoracic outlet syndrome". Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) can cause pain and numbness in the arm, or the shoulder or hand.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is very difficult to diagnose as the numbness could also be caused by other conditions, such as a herniated disc, or carpal tunnel syndrome in the hand, and it often takes a while to pin down the cause of the pain.
When the ribs and the vertebrae in the neck are moved upwards, they can compress the nerves and cause numbness and tingling along the inside edge of the arm. Most of the factors that cause numbness compress against your first rib, a 2007 study from Baylor University Medical Center found.
According to the Winchester Hospital Chiropractic Center, stretching the muscles with an exercise program can eliminate the problem.
Try an easy stretch by trying to touch the middle of your back with each of your arms. When you hand reaches the middle of your back, wiggle each of your fingers to the count of 5. It doesn't matter if you can't do it at first. Just start trying. Don't reach too far to cause pain. Then, each week, try, gently to reach just a little farther. You'd be surprised how much more flexible you will become in about 6 months. And, the numbness and pain should have decreased as well.
You can also stop thoracic outlet syndrome by avoiding heavy lifting and holding your arms up for long periods of time, bending your neck backwards and carrying a purse or bag on the affected arm or shoulder.