Numbness in Hands: 12 Common Causes (& What to Do)

Numbness in the hands is a symptom that can be caused by mild health conditions, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency or a more serious health problem, such as multiple sclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

Depending on the cause of this condition, numbness in the hands may also appear with symptoms such as hand weakness, pain and difficulty moving the joints, and frequent fatigue.

You should consult a family doctor, orthopedic surgeon or rheumatologist if the numbness in the hands takes several days to disappear or if it occurs with symptoms such as chest pain, cold sweats, shortness of breath and shoulder pain.

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What causes numbness in the hands?

Numbness in the hands can occur due to:

1. Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a condition where the immune system "attacks" the myelin sheath, a structure that covers neurons. This causes destruction in the nerves of the central nervous system.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis often include numbness and weakness in the limbs, including the hands, and loss of control of movement.

What to do: Treatment for multiple sclerosis involves the use of medications as prescribed by your doctor. These can include anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, analgesics and muscle relaxants, and are taken to prevent disease progression and to reduce the duration and intensity of symptoms and flare-ups. 

2. Heart attack

A heart attack occurs due to a reduced blood flow to the heart. It causes symptoms such as chest pain, cold sweat, nausea, shortness of breath, shoulder pain, or tingling or numbness in the arms or hands. Read more about the symptoms of a heart attack and how they can present. 

If you notice symptoms of a heart attack, you should proceed immediately to n emergency room for assessment, as this condition if life-threatening and can cause serious cardiac consequences.

Also recommended: What Causes a Heart Attack? 9 Common Causes

What to do: A heart attack should be treated in the hospital, with oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation as needed. The doctor may administer medications such as antiplatelet agents, anticoagulants, beta blockers, or analgesics.

3. Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that can arise due to damage to peripheral nerves. It can often occur in people with uncontrolled diabetes (in which case, it is referred to as diabetic neuropathy). This condition can also be caused by trauma or nerve compression, as well as infections or autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis or Guillain-Barré syndrome.

What to do: Treatment of peripheral neuropathy should be guided by a doctor and includes physiotherapy and the use of analgesics, anticonvulsants and antidepressants. Treatment is aimed at relieving pain and improving range of motion and movement.

4. Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints, and leads to symptoms such as numbness in the hands or fingers, and pain and difficulty moving the joints. 

What to do: to treat this condition, the rheumatologist may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants to relieve symptoms and prevent disease progression.

5. Cervical disc herniation

Cervical disc herniation occurs when there is compression of the intervertebral disc located in the neck. It can cause symptoms such as pain and difficulty moving the neck, and numbness in the hands and arms.

What to do: Treatment of this condition may include the application of hot compresses, the use of analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications, physiotherapy and exercises such as pilates and stretching.

6. Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes compression of a nerve that passes through the wrist and reaches the palm of the hand. This compression can cause numbness and a pins-and-needles sensation in the hands and fingers.

What to do: carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated with rest, analgesic or anti-inflammatory medications and physiotherapy, which should be ordered by an orthopedic surgeon.

7. Vitamin B12 deficiency

A vitamin B12 deficiency is a condition that can cause symptoms such as numbness in the hands, feet and legs, fatigue and memory loss. This vitamin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system.

What to do: Treatment of this condition may include the use of vitamin B12 injections, oral supplements, and increased consumption of foods rich or fortified with vitamin B12.

Also recommended: Top 16 Vitamin B12 Foods (& Recommended Daily Dose)

8. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a neurological disorder that causes widespread pain throughout the body, frequent fatigue, sleep disorders and problems with memory and concentration.

In some cases, fibromyalgia is also associated with symptoms such as numbness in the hands and/or feet and irritable bowel syndrome.

What to do: Fibromyalgia treatment involves the use of medications, such as analgesics and muscle relaxants, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical activities, acupuncture and physiotherapy. Read about the fibromyalgia medications that you doctor may prescribe to help manage specific symptoms.

9. Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks and inflames one or more blood vessels or organs in the body.

Symptoms of vasculitis vary depending on the affected region and may include numbness in the hands or feet, purple spots on the skin, abdominal pain, pain and redness in the joints, and muscle weakness.

What to do: To treat vasculitis, the doctor may prescribe corticosteroid medications, such as hydrocortisone or dexamethasone, and immunosuppressants, such as cyclophosphamide and mycophenolate.

Light physical exercise, rest and a healthy diet can also help in the treatment of vasculitis.

10. Synovial cyst

A synovial cyst is a fluid-filled nodule or lump, that forms close to a joint. It can cause numbness in the hands, feet or knees, as well as pain and loss of strength in the affected joint.

What to do: this condition is treated with anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or diclofenac. The doctor may also advise aspirating the fluid from very large cyst, which is done with a needle in the office. 

11. Stroke

Although it is a rare situation, a stroke can cause numbness in one of the hands or one of the arms. In addition, a person with a stroke may also experience drowsiness, changes in vision and severe headache.

Also recommended: Top 12 Stroke Symptoms (You Should Not Ignore)

What to do: Treatment for a stroke is carried out in the hospital and can vary depending on the type of stroke or area of the brain affected. It may include the use of antihypertensive medications, anticoagulants, antiplatelet agents, platelet transfusion or even surgery.

12. Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons that causes pain on the side of the elbow. This pain can radiate to the wrist, causing loss of strength and numbness in the hands, wrists and forearms.

Also recommended: Wrist Tendonitis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes & Treatment

What to do: to treat this condition, you are advised to rest, apply ice packs and participate in physiotherapy. The doctor may also recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications, surgery and corticosteroid injections. Learn more about tendonitis treatment that is often recommended.

Numbness in the hands during pregnancy

Numbness in the hands is a common symptom during pregnancy, especially during the last trimester. This symptom is generally caused by the swelling that occurs during this phase, which compresses the nerve that passes through the wrist, and causes carpal tunnel syndrome.

The recommended treatment for numbness in the hands during pregnancy may include ice packs, rest, strengthening and stretching exercises, and the use of a splint for immobilization.