Numbness in the fingers is a symptom that commonly occurs with repetitive hand movements and carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also occur with nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disease, nerve compression or nerve damage. This sensation can occur with other symptoms like extreme sensitivity to touch or difficulty moving the fingers.
Numbness in the fingers may also be a sign of a more severe health condition, like a stroke, which will generally present with only one side affected and with difficulty speaking or smiling, and face asymmetry.
It is important to see a rheumatologist, family doctor or orthopedic surgeon if you notice numbness in your fingers, especially if you experience other symptoms. If you feel you are having a stroke, you should proceed immediately to the emergency room.
What causes numbness in the fingers
The most common causes of numbness in the fingers are:
1. Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common causes of numbness. This condition occurs due to repetitive hand movements in jobs like hairdressing or using power tools. These repetitive movements can lead to compression of a nerve in the wrist, which innervates the palm.
In addition to numbness in the hands and fingers, some people report a feeling of pins and needle in the thumb, index finger or middle finger. This symptom usually worsens at night, and additionally presents with wrist pain and changes to touch perception.
How to treat: Treatment for carpal tunnel should be guided by an orthopedic surgeon and can be done with cold compresses, anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy or even surgery.
2. Peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can occur due to damage to the peripheral nerves, which are located outside of the brain and spinal cord. It can cause symptoms like numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes, extreme sensitivity to palpation or loss of touch. This condition can also affect the arms and legs, and cause a throbbing pain, numbness, loss of motor control, loss of reflexes or loss of balance.
Peripheral neuropathy is more common in people with uncontrolled diabetes, but it can also occur due to an injury, nerve compression, infection, or autoimmune disease (like rheumatoid arthritis or Guillain-Barre syndrome).
How to treat: Treatment for peripheral neuropathy should be guided by a neurologist and generally consists of managing symptoms with analgesics, antidepressants or anticonvulsants. Some patients may also benefit from physiotherapy and even surgery.
Fibromyalgia is a type of chronic rheumatism that is associated with fully body pain, increased sensitivity, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, muscular rigidity and numbness in the arms and legs.
How to treat: Treatment should be oriented by a rheumatologist, who may indicate the use of analgesic medication or antidepressants, physiotherapy and exercises. Learn more about how fibromyalgia is diagnosed and treated.
4. Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that leads to the breakdown of the myelin sheath that lines neurons. This interferes with the transmission of nerve signals and nervous system function. Common symptoms include weakness in the extremities, difficulty walking and coordinating movements and numbness in the fingers, hands, arms and legs.
How to treat: Treatment for multiple sclerosis is oriented by a rheumatologist, who may prescribe physiotherapy and medications like anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, analgesics or muscle relaxants. Treatment is aimed at preventing further progression of the disease and relieving symptoms.
5. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes symptoms like pain, redness and swelling in the affected joints. It is associated with rigidity, difficulty moving the joints and numbness in the fingers. Read more about the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and what can cause it.
How to treat: Generally, treatment involves the use of anti-inflammatories, corticosteroid injections and immunosuppressants. Some patients additionally benefit from physiotherapy.
6. B12 deficiency
A deficiency in vitamin B12 can cause nerve damage and lead to numbness or tingling in the hands, feet or legs.
Other symptoms in can cause are fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, confusion, excess gas or weight loss. Read more about what can cause a B12 deficiency as well as other symptoms associated with it.
How to treat: You should see your doctor to complete bloodwork, as this will confirm the current B12 level in the blood. If low, the doctor will usually prescribe B12 supplements and recommend a valanced diet with fresh fruits, greens and veggies. Read more about B12 injections and how they are administered.
7. Raynaud’s syndrome
Raynaud’s syndrome is characterized as abnormal blood flow to the hands and feet. It is associated with numbness or tingling, swelling, pain and pain in the fingers or toes. Some patients also report changes to skin color and temperature, in which affected extremities turn cold and pale, blue or purple.
Raynaud’s syndrome is mainly related to constant or prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, however it can occur with certain health conditions, like scleroderma, dermatomyositis or hypothyroidism.
How to treat: You should warm up your hands and feet to stimulate optimal circulation. To prevent numbness, you can use warm gloves and socks. The doctor may prescribe vasodilating medications to improve blood flow to the extremities.
8. Cubital tunnel syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve, which runs from the neck to the arm and hand, becomes compressed within the elbow. It causes numbness in the ring and pinky fingers as well as difficulty moving the fingers and elbow pain.
This condition can be caused by arthritis, cysts, fractures or dislocation of the elbow.
How to treat: Treatment consists of using splints as indicated by the orthopedic surgeon to keep the elbow straight, as well as anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy and/or surgery.
9. Lyme disease
Lyme disease is an infection that is transmitted by a tick contaminated Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, It can cause neurological symptoms, like numbness in the hands and feet, as well as facial paralysis.
This condition can also lead to heart problems, arthritis or meningitis.
How to treat: Treatment for Lyme disease involves the use of oral or IV antibiotics, as prescribed by a family doctor or infectious disease specialist.
A stroke is a condition caused by decreased blood flow and oxygen to the brain due to a clot or hemorrhage. It can cause symptoms like tingling or numbness in the hands, feet, arms or legs that is felt on just one side. Patients experiencing a stroke will also have difficulty speaking or smiling, an asymmetrical face, vision changes, fainting, headache or even vomiting, depending on the part of the brain that is affected.
How to treat: You should proceed immediately to the closest hospital so that treatment can start promptly. Treatment depends on the type of stroke presenting, and is aimed at minimizing complications, like difficulty moving, confusion or memory loss.
11. Radiculopatia cervical
Cervical radiculopathy is compression or inflammation of a nerve in the neck. It can cause neck pain that radiates to the shoulder or arm, numbness in the hands and muscular weakness.
This condition is commonly caused by spinal degeneration from normal aging, however it can also occur with arthritis or a herniated cervical disc.
How to treat: Treatment should be guided by an orthopedic surgeon, who may recommend a cervical collar, physiotherapy, and medications like anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids. Surgery may be advised in cases in which conservative therapy was not effective.
12. Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow, which is medically referred to as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation that affects the tendons in the elbow. These tendons connect the muscles to the bones and can become swollen from overuse or injury, causing symptoms like hand numbness, difficulty moving the elbow and limited mobility in the arm.
How to treat: Treatment for this condition is guided by an orthopedic surgeon, and is aimed at decreasing tendon inflammation and relieving symptoms. The doctor may advise rest, cold compresses, anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy and even surgery in some cases.
13. Cervical spondylosis
Cervical spondylosis is a breakdown in the vertebrae and discs in the cervical spine, in the neck area. It is generally caused by osteoarthritis and is associated with symptoms like finger numbness, pain that radiates from the shoulders to the arm and hand, and arm weakness.
How to treat: This condition can be treated with analgesics, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants as prescribed by a doctor. The doctor may also recommend physiotherapy and even surgery in some cases.
14. Medication use
Some medications may cause numbness or tingling in the fingers, hands or throughout the body as a side effect. This can happen following chemotherapy or HIV treatment with antiretrovirals.
How to terat: You should see your prescriber and report this side-effect to determine whether the medication should be swapped for another, or to see whether there is a way to reduce side effects.