We’ve all felt it: that numb, tingly feeling in the fingers, hands, toes, feet, nose, ears — sometimes gnawing in one particular place, other times tormenting the body in global fashion. It doesn’t hurt, exactly. But it doesn’t feel quite right, either.
What’s to blame?
“Where to start?” says Dr. John Gorecki MD, an accomplished North Georgia neurosurgeon who’s answered that question countless times over two-plus decades of practice. “Tingling and numbness in the extremities is a common affliction with many potential root causes. Asking what’s causing it is often trickier than you’d think.”
So is assuming that your latest tingling outbreak has just one root cause, he adds.
But Gorecki has been around long enough to identify a few key causes. Here are his views on five of the most common, in no particular order.
Peripheral neuropathy is a scary-sounding condition that’s usually irreversible. It has many different causes, all of which result in nerve damage that foments tingling or numbness in the extremities.
Peripheral neuropathy is often caused by traumatic injuries like car accidents, infections that attack the peripheral nervous system, and certain toxicity events.
Pair poor clothing choices with cold weather and you’ve got a recipe for frostbite. Even if you’re not a seasoned mountaineer or don’t regularly experience anything colder than your grocer’s walk-in cooler, you instinctively know that you need to protect your hands and feet (and other body parts) when the mercury drops.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Tingling and numbness in the extremities are important early warning signs of frostbite. However, if you can feel your hands, feet or nose complaining, there’s usually time to prevent lasting injury or complications.
But you have to recognize what your body is telling you. Even on cold days, people sometimes overlook the obvious answer.
Constrictive Clothing or Accessories
This is another fairly obvious tingling-and-numbness cause — and one that’s equally likely to confuse sufferers, particularly when it’s caused by an article of clothing or accessory that’s worn regularly.
Remember that anything worn tight around a limb or extremity can affect nerve impulse transmission—even a platinum wedding ring.
Type I and II Diabetes
Diabetes is a major public health concern, and for good reason: it’s expensive to treat, negatively impacts quality of life, and shortens lifespans. It — or, rather, diabetic nerve damage — is also a major cause of tingling and numbness in the extremities. Type I and Type II diabetes sufferers are at risk.
Arthritis, both rheumatoid (auto-immune) and mechanical (caused by cartilage loss due to age or injury), can cause tingling and numbness in the extremities.
“To be fair, tingling usually isn’t the most painful symptom of arthritis,” says Gorecki. “But it’s annoying and often magnifies the subjective experience of arthritis-associated pain.”
Do you suffer from persistent tingling and numbness in the extremities? What do you suspect is causing it?