What is paresthesia?
Paresthesia is a term referring to a burning or prickling sensation that people may experience within their legs, arms, hands or feet. It may also occur in other parts of their body.
The sensation, sometimes, occurs without warning and is a mostly painless sensation. It’s best described by its tingling, numbness and distinct skin crawling feeling.
Most people actually experience a temporary form of paresthesia when they sit with their legs crossed or sleep with their arm underneath their head for too long.
That’s why many people feel a brief ‘pins and needles’ sensation when they constrict the blood flow, muscles and even nerves of their limbs in that way.
People also feel ‘pins and needles’ when they place prolonged pressure on any of their nerves. The sensation, however, does fade away once the pressure gets relieved.
If you have ever been sitting on your foot for too long, you have experienced paresthesia. This prickling sensation typically occurs when pressure is placed on a nerve.
Symptoms commonly resolve soon after the pressure is removed. This explanation is provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Paresthesia is often described as a prickly, painful or burning sensation, most commonly of the hands, feet, arms or legs. This alarming sensation is often referred to as “pins and needles” or “falling asleep”.
When paresthesia is an ongoing symptom, it can be a sign of nerve damage or a symptom of a neurological condition, typically involving the central nervous system.
There are two types of nerve damage that can cause paresthesia. Radiculopathy occurs when nerve roots are irritated, inflamed or compressed and can cause weakness in the affected limbs.
Neuropathy is typically associated with chronic nerve damage that can be caused by many factors including vitamin deficiencies or high blood sugar.
Paresthesia can be caused by poor circulation, strokes, multiple sclerosis, encephalitis and nerve entrapment syndromes such as carpal tunnel.
Nerve entrapment syndromes can damage peripheral nerves, causing paresthesia and pain. The cause of paresthesia can often be determined by your medical history and a physical examination.
Though, paresthesia is a condition that doesn’t fade away like its temporary version.
The chronic version of paresthesia doesn’t fade away as fast, and it’s often a symptom of an underlying neurological condition or even traumatic nerve damage.
A look at chronic paresthesia
Chronic paresthesia, also known as intermittent paresthesia, may originate from disorders that affect the central nervous system, such as transient ischemic attacks or strokes, multiple sclerosis or encephalitis.
Vascular lesions or tumor-like growths may press against a person’s spinal cord or brain and cause paresthesia to develop. However, the development of paresthesia from those conditions is considered rare.
In most cases, paresthesia develops after a person experiences nerve damage from infections, trauma, inflammation or other conditions. To fully understand how paresthesia develops in people, we invite our readers to take a look at the causes of the condition in the next section.
The causes and symptoms of paresthesia
Paresthesia is an interesting condition in that its symptoms originate from a wide range of possibilities.
In other words, paresthesia may have many potential causes. In the last section, we mentioned some of the paresthesia’s potential causes.
Here’s a brief look at more potential causes:
- Nerve irritation
- Multiple sclerosis
Some rare causes of paresthesia may include:
- Fabry disease
- Lyme disease infection
- Beta-alanine ingestion
- Heavy metal poisoning
- Lidocaine poisoning
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Paresthesia also has orthopedic causes, typically originating from conditions that may injure and/or damage the nerves.
Those causes include back or neck injuries, bone fractures, herniated discs, osteoporosis, nerve pressure or entrapment and degenerative disc disease. Many of the aforementioned causes make people with paresthesia develop symptoms.
While paresthesia is considered a symptom of many conditions, the condition itself makes people experience symptoms.
When paresthesia is caused by another condition, people with paresthesia may experience symptoms related to that aforementioned condition; in rare cases, those symptoms might worsen their paresthesia symptoms.
Common symptoms of paresthesia typically include:
- Itching, numbness, and tingling
- Foot drop
- Crawling sensation within the skin
- ‘Sleeping’ limbs, including the arms and legs
- Restless leg syndrome
- Muscular atrophy
- Ocular dysmetria
Doctors typically diagnose paresthesia based on a person’s medical history, a complete physical examination and/or laboratory testing. This typically helps them find the suspected cause of the condition.
Paresthesia may cause complications. Since it often develops from diseases affecting the nervous system or nerve damage, people with paresthesia need to seek immediate treatment to prevent themselves from experiencing any complications that might lead to permanent damage.
Some of those complications may include permanent or chronic pain, disabilities (involving mobility), paralysis, an inability to independently breathe and a permanent loss of sensation.
Of course, treatment for paresthesia helps people avoid contracting permanent or chronic complications from the condition. In the next section, we’re going to review some of those treatments.
Paresthesia of the Skin
Paresthesia is usually a transient symptom. If you have episodes of paresthesia, these events typically resolve on their own. Less commonly, you may feel paresthesia on your skin. This happens when your skin is along the pathway of an affected nerve.
Paresthesia of the skin is often described as the sensation of small insects crawling on or under the skin. The medical term for this type of paresthesia is fornication. You may also experience skin paresthesia as tingling, pain, numbness, burning or itching.
Paresthesia of the skin that triggers itching triggers the reflex to scratch. The instinct to scratch the itch often leads to skin damage and the possibility of infection. Psychology Today provides us with several potential causes of paresthesia of the skin.
- Nerve damage, such as diabetic neuropathy
- Shingles (herpes zoster)
- Side effects of some antidepressants and opioid analgesics
- Side effects of Ritalin or Adderal
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Vitamin deficiencies
Paresthesia of the skin is often thought to be caused by irritation of the nerves within the skin or diseases of the spinal cord, but formication can have physical and psychological causes.
A look at treatments for paresthesia
Treatment for paresthesia is based on the diagnosis of the condition, meaning people with different diagnoses relating to paresthesia will have different recommended treatments for their symptoms.
People with limbs that fall asleep, due to paresthesia, may be recommended stretching, exercising or massaging for their affected limbs.
This helps eliminate their tingling sensations and feelings of numbness. People who have paresthesia originating from another chronic disease may be recommended treatments aimed at providing relief for their symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, are commonly recommended for people with mild paresthesia. Severe cases of paresthesia require stronger medications.
Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, are typically given to patients with the aforementioned form of paresthesia. They’re typically administered at lower doses than what they’d be administered for depression relief.
That’s because the low dosages affect how people perceive pain within their body, providing potential relief to the parts of their body affected by paresthesia. Those with worsening paresthesia may be given opium derivatives like codeine to relieve pain.
Treating the cause of the paresthesia will typically resolve your symptoms. Though paresthesia itself is generally harmless, it can be an indication of an underlying health problem. If this phenomenon occurs frequently, a visit to your health care provider may be warranted.
According to WebMD, your physician may order blood tests, x-rays or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine the cause of your condition.
The treatment of your paresthesia will depend on the cause. If your paresthesia is the result of a vitamin deficiency, a supplement may be prescribed. Vitamin B12, folate and vitamin E deficiencies are known to cause paresthesia.
If the sensation is caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, a brace may be recommended to relieve the pressure on the nerve caused by repetitive movement. There are several other treatment options.
- Physical therapy or exercise
- Medication to treat underlying conditions (MS or diabetes)
- Prescription antidepressants or anticonvulsants (for nerve pain)
- Surgery to release nerve compression (for carpal tunnel and sciatica)
Human nerve growth factor and paresthesia?
Human nerve growth factor, a small secreted protein, may play a role in paresthesia treatment in the future.
This small secreted protein is important for the survival, growth, and maintenance of specific neurons or nerve cells, while also functioning as a signaling molecule.
As of now, it’s known to prevent or reduce neural degeneration from neurodegenerative diseases in animal models.
Due to those results, many medical researchers are exploring the possibility of human nerve growth factor playing a role in helping heal nerve degradation and restore damaged nerves.
It may be a key element in paresthesia treatment in the future, in addition to treatment for conditions like depression, dementia, depression, schizophrenia, and autism.
Several alternative treatments for paresthesia also exist. They mainly help with relieving the immediate symptoms of the condition.
Nutritional therapy involves the use of vitamin supplements. Vitamin supplements, like B-complex vitamins, can help restore the nervous system’s normal functions.
Interestingly enough, B-complex vitamins like B6 should be used as directed, since an overdose of B6 is known to cause paresthesia.
Acupuncture and massages also help relief paresthesia in different ways. It’s suggested to find a massage therapist or acupuncture specialists who are trained in performing their corresponding treatments on people with paresthesia.
Self-massages also provide short-term relief. Massages with aromatic oils have a soothing effect, especially when using essential oils with an active effect that soothes the skin and underlying tissue.
Some essential oils that may provide relief for paresthesia and other types of nerve pain include peppermint, sandalwood, chamomile, lavender, and marjoram.
Treating Paresthesia with Essential Oils
It is possible to treat paresthesia with essential oils. Paresthesia is fairly common in people diagnosed with neuropathy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and many other medical conditions that affect the nervous system.
DIY Health Ready recommends these essential oils for their potential to reduce the pain and discomfort of paresthesia.
The use of spruce oil can improve your circulation, relieve muscle spasms and pain. Spruce oil may also help nerve regeneration by cleaning receptor sites.
Blue tansy is also beneficial for nerve regeneration. This oil is said to boost oxygenation in the body, providing essential nutrients to the cells.
Peppermint essential oil has been recommended for centuries to control muscle spasms, relax muscles and relieve pain. A study in 2004 showed promising benefits for neuropathic pain. Peppermint also promotes circulation.
Lavender is known for it’s calming, relaxing benefits. This multi-tasking essential oil also works to provide relief from inflammation and pain, as lavender is a natural anti-spasmodic.
Eucalyptus oil is particularly effective for pain relief because it relieves muscle spasms that can cause some forms of neuropathy. Some credit the pain relief to the warming effect that eucalyptus oil provides.
You may need to know that essential oils are highly concentrated extracts that should not be applied directly to your skin without first diluting them.
You can use essential oils safely by adding a few drops of your essential oil to a natural carrier oil such as olive oil or coconut oil before applying them to your skin. You can even blend several essential oils depending on your particular needs or preferences.
Signs of Paresthesia Healing
Now you know that the prickling, numb and sometimes painful symptoms, of paresthesia are typically caused by the restriction of nerve impulses resulting from inflammation or injury.
There are many available treatments, including vitamin therapy, prescription medications, physical therapy and alternative therapies such as essential oils and massage that can alleviate your discomfort and improve your symptoms.
If you experience numbness that eventually starts feeling prickly, that can be a good sign. These new sensations could indicate that the nerves are regenerating and normal feeling could return. It is important to realize that paresthesia can take time to resolve. The peripheral nerves take a while to grow and repair.
When your nerves begin to heal, you will begin to notice less pain. As inflammation continues to decrease, the paresthesia should diminish as well.
Many people, even those with carpal tunnel and sciatica may find effective treatment using exercise or physical therapy, medications and essential oils.