Healthy Living

Pins and Needles: Types, Causes, and Treatment

Pins and Needles: Types, Causes, and Treatment

Feeling your hands and feet going numb is a very normal condition that most of us experience at some point or the other. It is a feeling when one cannot feel any sensation in the affected parts of the body. In most cases, numbness or the feeling called ‘pins and needles’ occurs due to a pressure that is built up on the nerves of the body or or the blood vessels that connect the nerves of the body.

It is very common to get this sensation when you are sitting in an uncomfortable position for too long. If you are sitting with your legs crossed for too long, you are very likely to have this sensation hitting you. However sometimes, this sensation could also be a warning signal of a serious illness such as diabetes.

What Do You Mean by Pins and Needles?

Numbness or the pins and needles sensation occurs when a person is unable to sense anything and mostly occurs in the arms, legs, hands and feet. The condition is primarily triggered when the excessive pressure cuts the blood supply to the nerves that carry sensory messages to the brain. When one feels numb, there is no feeling in the affected part of the body.

The absence of feeling is so strong that even if a pin is pricked to the affected skin, one may not feel the sharp pain. Pins and needles as a feeling could leave the affected person highly disturbed with an unpleasant feeling in the affected part of the body. It may feel like several pins pricking and could also be painful as the sensation travels through the entire affected part of the body.

In medical terms, pins and needles is known as paraesthesia and is defined as a pricking, burning, tingling or numbing sensation which normally occurs in the moving parts of the body like the hands, legs, arms or the feet.

Most of the times, pins and needles does not cause any pain, but rather causes a feeling of numbness and itching which can cause a lot of discomfort to the person.  Pins and needles is a temporary phenomenon, however in case of chronic health conditions, it could also be long-lasting.

Types of Pins and Needles

Pins and needles are usually characterized into two types:

  • Temporary pins and needles
  • Long-lasting pins and needles

Temporary Pins and Needles

Temporary pins and needles is a very common condition and is not a cause of concern, however it can make the affected person very uncomfortable for that period of time.

It occurs when nerves are compressed due to pressure being applied and the blood supply to that section of the body is stopped. When this condition occurs, due to the pressure, the sensory message is not delivered to the brain which causes the sensations to be cut off from the specific part of the body.

Kneeling, sitting cross-legged or wearing tight shoes for a long time can lead to pins and needles due to the blood flow getting restricted in the nerves and vessels in specific parts of the body.

The best way to get immediate relief from the condition is by removing pressure from the area affected by the condition. As soon as the pressure is removed, the blood supply returns back causing relief from the tingling and pricking sensation.

There are other causes which could result in temporary pins and needles including:

  • Raynaud's disease: This is a disease which causes the blood supply to a certain part of the body to get affected like in the fingers and toes. It normally occurs due to cold temperatures, stress or anxiety levels.
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too quickly): In this condition, the blood supply gets uneven and one strains to breathe faster. This is caused as undue pressure on the vessels restricts blood flow, thereby resulting in the pins and needles condition.

Long-lasting pins and needles

For some people, the pins and needles condition can be persistent and repeated. In such cases, it is normally a symptom than a condition in itself. It could indicate a severe health condition like:

  • Diabetes – Where the blood flow normally gets affected as the excessive glucose built up in the blood vessels restricts the smooth flow of blood.
  • A compressed ulnar nerve – The ulnar nerve connects the neck and the upper part of the elbow to the little finger. Due to odd positions, lifting heavy weights and various other causes, this nerve could get compressed any time and result in pins and needles.
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome: The carpal tunnel runs from the forehand to the lower palm. When there is sudden pressure on the hands, the pins and needles feeling along with numbness or a tingling sensation could be triggered.
  • Sciatica – A tingling sensation that results due to the irritation and compression of sciatic nerve (a long nerve running from the hip to the the legs upto the feet) could also result in pins and needles sensation.
  • Treatments: A long-lasting pins and needles feeling could be triggered by certain forms of treatment like chemotherapy and also due to certain injuries.

Causes of Pins and Needles

Here are some of the major health conditions that could result in long-lasting pins and needles condition in patients:

  • Diabetes: People with diabetes and other nerve-related disorders often experience pins and needles. It is known as peripheral neuropathy, when the nerves of the body begin to get affected. In 30% of diabetic cases, nerve-related disorders including tingling sensation and numbness begin to develop early in both legs and feet. In extreme cases, people also feel the symptoms in hands and the arms. Nerve damage is a very common cause of concern among diabetic patients and in a lot of cases, it is also one of the first warning signs of the disease.
  • Nerve entrapment syndromes: Various nerve system disorders including sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve palsy and much more could cause frequent pins and needles in people.
  • Chronic diseases: There are various chronic diseases like kidney diseases, liver diseases, cardiovascular diseases, blood-related diseases, tissue diseases, inflammations, hormonal disorders that can result in pins and needles sensations.
  • Vitamin deficiencies: There are several essential vitamins requirements in the body which are essential for a healthy nerve functioning of the body. These deficiencies can cause various disorders in the body like anemia, which is a trigger for peripheral neuropathy. However, there are certain vitamins like B6, which when found in excess in the body could also cause pins and needles sensation in the body parts.
  • Alcoholism: Excessive consumption of alcohol is likely to trigger deficiencies in the functioning of the body. It is also seen that alcohol results in a condition called alcoholic neuropathy, wherein the peripheral nerves, which are responsible for sending signals between the body, the spine and the brain are damaged.
  • Toxins: People working in industries and jobs where they get exposed to toxins like lead, mercury, arsenic, and other industrial chemicals could cause an inherent damage to the body nerves. 
  • Autoimmune diseases: Certain nerve-related diseases are triggered as an auto-response of the body to some inflammations, medications and other disorders. Diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis are known to cause neuropathic disorders, which could cause the pins and needles sensation in the body. 
  • Injuries and accidents: Severe accidents and traumatic injuries could cause the nerves to be compressed, crushed or severely damaged. This could cause long term damage to the nerves, which could restrict flow of blood in these blood vessels resulting in numbness or the pins and needles sensation.

Diagnosing Pins and Needles

If you are seeking medical care to treat the numbness and the pins and needles feeling that has been bothering you for too long, you may be suggested a physical examination. The doctor will also try and understand your medical history, details about your work environment, intake of alcohol and family history of diseases. These help the health care practitioner to get a broader outlook of the possible cause of the sensation,especially if it is long term.

The doctor may also recommend a few additional tests such as:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests are often suggested to detect diseases like kidney disorders, diabetes, liver dysfunction, vitamin deficiencies and much more.
  • Fluid examination: The doctor may suggests tests of the cerebrospinal fluid to understand if the numbness and tingling could be associated with peripheral neuropathy.
  • Electromyogram (EMG): This is a test which may be recommended to understand the electrical activities and sensations in the muscles.

Treating Pins and Needles

Treatment of pins and needles largely depends upon the accurate understanding of the root cause of the problem. The nerve cells have the ability to regenerate from damages unless it is permanent damage caused by various factors like autoimmune disorders or natural ageing process.

Although there are no definitive treatments available for treating peripheral neuropathy, there are ways of managing the condition. Controlling blood sugar levels for diabetic patients is the best way to effectively manage the condition, reducing the frequency of the occurrence of the numbness sensation.

People diagnosed with vitamin deficiencies experiencing pins and needles should ensure they get the appropriate doses of vitamins and minerals to effectively manage the condition.

There are several lifestyle measures that one can adopt to manage the condition better. Simple ways like maintaining the correct body weight, avoiding toxins and harmful chemicals, physiotherapy, restricting alcohol and eating a balanced diet could all go a long way in dealing with various nervous system disorders.

In several cases, the tingling sensation and other symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy can be managed by treating seizures and depression.

Natural Ways to Treat Pins and Needles

  • Applying a warm compress:  The best way to get immediate relief from tingling sensation in hands and feet is to apply a hot compress on the affected areas. The warm compress increases the supply of blood in the affected parts of the body, thus providing instant relief from the condition. One can use a washcloth dipped in hot water or take a hot shower to get relief from this technique.
  • Massage: Massaging the hands and feet when the tingling sensation occurs is yet another effective way of managing this condition. Massaging strokes help in a better flow of blood circulation, which in turn helps in reducing the numbness. It also helps in stimulating the nerves and muscles of the body, thereby improving the overall functioning of the body. Massaging done with oils like warm olive oil, coconut oil or even mustard oil; makes it more effective as the warmth of the oils helps in greater flow of the blood through the blood vessels.
  • Exercise: Exercise under doctor supervision is a great way of improving the blood circulation in the body, thereby preventing numbness or the tingling sensation in various parts of the body. Movement of the affected parts immediately improves the blood circulation in the body and also the flow of oxygen to the various cells and parts of the body.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric is an ingredient found in the kitchen, which contains a chemical called curcumin. This essential compound helps in improving the blood flow in the body and its anti-inflammatory properties help in reducing symptoms like pain and inflammation.