Definition of numbness in hands
Numbness in one or both hands describes a loss of sensation or feeling in your hand or fingers. Often, numbness in hands may be accompanied by other changes, such as a pins-and-needles sensation, burning or tingling. The arm, hand or fingers may feel clumsy or weak.
Numbness can occur along a single nerve, or it may occur in both hands in a symmetrical pattern.
Causes of numbness in hands
Numbness in a hand is usually caused by damage, irritation or compression of one of the nerves or a branch of one of the nerves in your arm and wrist.
Diseases affecting the peripheral nerves, such as diabetes, also can cause numbness, although this is often preceded by similar symptoms in your feet.
Rarely, numbness can be caused by problems in your brain or spinal cord, although this is usually accompanied by weakness or loss of function in your arm or hand. Fortunately, numbness by itself is only rarely associated with potentially life-threatening disorders, such as strokes or tumors.
Your doctor will need detailed information about your symptoms to diagnose the cause of your numbness. A variety of tests may be needed to confirm the cause before appropriate treatment can begin.
Possible causes of numbness in one or both of your hands include:
- Alcoholism or chronic alcohol use
- Amyloidosis (when substances called amyloid proteins build up in your organs)
- Brachial plexus injury (an injury to the network of nerves that conducts signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Cervical spondylosis (age-related wear and tear affecting the disks in your neck)
- Ganglion cyst (noncancerous fluid-filled lumps that most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of your wrists or hands)
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (an uncommon disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves)
- Lyme disease (a tick-borne illness)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Paraneoplastic syndromes of the nervous system (a group of rare disorders that develop in some people with cancer)
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage that often causes numbness and pain in your hands and feet)
- Raynaud’s disease (a condition that causes some areas of your body to feel numb and cool in response to cold temperatures or stress)
- Side effects of chemotherapy drugs
- Sjogren’s syndrome (an autoimmune disease that causes dry eyes and dry mouth)
- Spinal cord injury
- Syringomyelia (the development of a fluid-filled cyst, or syrinx, within your spinal cord)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Ulnar nerve compression
- Vasculitis (an inflammation of your blood vessels)
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
When to see a doctor
It’s important to determine the cause of hand numbness. If numbness persists or spreads to other parts of your body, consult your doctor for an evaluation. Treatment of numbness in hands depends on the underlying cause.
Call 911 or get emergency medical help if your numbness:
- Begins suddenly, particularly if it’s accompanied by weakness or paralysis, confusion, difficulty talking, dizziness, or a sudden, severe headache
Schedule an office visit if your numbness:
- Begins or worsens gradually and persists
- Spreads to other parts of the body
- Affects both sides of the body
- Comes and goes
- Seems related to certain tasks or activities, particularly repetitive motions
- Affects only a part of your hand, such as a finger