Have you ever had ‘pins and needles’ or experienced your limbs ‘falling asleep’? Well that pricking, tingling, itching sensation is called paresthesia.
Most of the time it’s harmless. Sometimes it’s warning you that there is something seriously wrong.
What Is Paresthesia?
Paresthesia is when pressure on a nerve causes an uncomfortable tingling or prickling sensation in your body.
It usually happens when you have been sitting down for a long period of time and are putting a lot of pressure on a certain part of your body.
This is relatively harmless, and when the nerve is relieved of pressure, the pain goes away without needing treatment.
This is called temporary paresthesia and is nothing to be worried about because most people experience it.
Can Paresthesia Be Dangerous?
Sometimes paresthesia doesn’t go away. This much more sinister form of paresthesia is an example of chronic pain – pain that lasts more than three months.
This form of paresthesia is often called chronic paresthesia. But what are the symptoms? How it is caused? What should you do about it?
Read on to find out more about paresthesia, its symptoms and the difference between temporary and chronic paresthesia.
Symptoms of Temporary Paresthesia
Paresthesia mostly affects your extremities, such as hands, feet, legs and arms. It is unusual for it to affect other body parts, but not unheard of.
The main symptoms for temporary paresthesia are:
- A tingling or pricking sensation, often called ‘pins and needles’.
- An itching sensation.
- A feeling of numbness, often referred to as your limbs ‘falling asleep’.
- A cold feeling.
- A burning feeling.
Symptoms of Chronic Paresthesia
People experiencing chronic paresthesia will experience the symptoms above as well as these ones:
- A painful, stabbing sensation.
- Clumsiness in the affected area. For example, people with chronic paresthesia in their legs may find it difficult to walk.
- A tingling or pricking sensation that doesn’t go away after pressure on the nerve is released.
- Experiencing any of these symptoms frequently for an extended period of time, such as more than three months.
Nerve damage can lead to permanent numbness or even paralysis, so it is best to speak to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Causes of Temporary Paresthesia
Temporary paresthesia can be caused by:
- Too much pressure on a nerve.
- Poor blood circulation.
- Sitting still for a long period of time.
If you are experiencing temporary paresthesia you will know because the symptoms will disappear after a few minutes.
You can massage the affected area or move it around to help speed up the recovery process.
Causes of Chronic Paresthesia
Unfortunately for anyone suffering from chronic paresthesia, these symptoms are often caused by sustained nerve damage or a medical condition.
Here are some of the common causes of chronic paresthesia:
- A trapped nerve, often from straining or injury. This is most common in arms, shoulders and necks.
- Alcohol abuse.
- Lack of some vitamins, especially vitamin B12.
- A stroke or mini-stroke.
- Restless leg syndrome, which is where you often experience the urge to move your body in order to stop uncomfortable sensations.
- Carpel tunnel syndrome.
- Dysarthria, which is characterized by slow or slurred speech that is difficult to understand.
- Foot drop, which is where the forefoot drops due to weakness of or damage to nerves in the foot and lower leg.
Chronis paresthesia may also be a sign of nerve damage. There are two types of nerve damage often caused by chronic paresthesia – neuropathy and radiculopathy.
Neuropathy is caused by chronic nerve damage. The most common cause of this is high blood pressure, or hyperglycemia.
Other causes include trauma, neurological diseases like MS, liver or kidney diseases, infections like HIV or Lyme disease, tumors which are located close to nerves, strokes, repetitive sporting injuries, medications such as are used during chemotherapy treatment and others.
Radiculopathy is a condition that occurs when nerves become irritated, inflamed or compressed for an extended period of time.
This can happen when anything compresses the nerve as it leaves the spinal column; a nerve experiences pressure for an extended period of time or the canal which transmits the nerve from your spinal column to your extremities becomes narrower.
Can You Get Treatment for Paresthesia?
Treatment is not needed for temporary paresthesia. However, if you think you might be experiencing chronic paresthesia it is best to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
What type of treatment you receive for chronic paresthesia depends on its cause? For example, if you have a sustained injury a doctor might suggest physiotherapy.
If you have a disease, then treating that disease would cause the symptoms of chronic paresthesia to go away.
Sometimes lifestyle adjustments are suggested, such as a better diet or activities to increase blood circulation.
Can You Prevent Paresthesia?
Temporary paresthesia is almost impossible to prevent because it is caused by everyday activities.
It is also experienced by many people without causing them any damage, so there is no need to worry about is.
Chronic paresthesia is more serious and can be alleviated in some circumstances by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
These tips may help you:
- Avoid movements which repeatedly put strain on the affected area.
- If you need to use the affected area repeatedly, make sure you rest it in between movements.
- Break up long periods of sitting still by getting up and moving around every so often.
All in all, paresthesia has many different and varied causes.
If you feel like you are experiencing one of more of the symptoms of chronic paresthesia it is best to see your doctor for advice.