Numbness describes a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of your body. It's often accompanied by or combined with other changes in sensation, such as a pins-and-needles feeling or burning. Numbness can occur along a single nerve on one side of the body, or it may occur symmetrically, on both sides of the body.

Numbness is often caused by damage, irritation or compression of nerves. A single nerve branch or several nerves may be affected, as with a slipped disk in the back or carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. Certain diseases — such as diabetes, which can damage the longest, most sensitive nerve fibers (such as those going to your feet) — also can cause numbness.

Numbness commonly affects nerves located on the periphery of your body. Numbness alone isn't usually 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:

Numbness can have a variety of causes. Most are harmless, but some can be life-threatening.

Call 911 or seek emergency help if your numbness:

  • Begins suddenly
  • Follows a recent head injury
  • Involves an entire arm or leg

Also seek emergency medical care if your numbness is accompanied by:

  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty talking
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden, severe headache

You are likely to have a CT scan or MRI if:

  • You've had a head injury
  • Your doctor suspects or needs to rule out a brain tumor or stroke

Schedule an office visit if your numbness:

  • Begins or worsens gradually
  • Affects both sides of the body
  • Comes and goes
  • Seems related to certain tasks or activities, particularly repetitive motions
  • Affects only a part of a limb, such as your toes or fingers
April 20, 2019