Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MDon August 1, 2016 — Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN
What is finger numbness?
Numbness can cause tingling and a prickling feeling, as if someone is lightly touching your fingers with a needle. Sometimes, the sensation can feel slightly burning. In addition, finger numbness may affect your ability to pick things up. You may feel clumsy and as if you’ve lost strength in your hands.
Finger numbness can range from an annoying symptom that occurs occasionally to something that impairs your ability to perform daily tasks. Whatever the symptoms, non-invasive treatments are often available.
What are the potential causes of finger numbness?
The nerves in your body are responsible for transmitting messages to and from your brain. If the nerves are compressed, damaged, or irritated, numbness can occur. Examples of conditions known to cause finger numbness include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
This condition occurs when the nerve that provides feeling to your hand becomes pinched or obstructed. This condition often causes numbness in the index and middle fingers as well as the thumb.
This occurs when a nerve that leaves your neck becomes inflamed or compressed. This condition can cause numbness that’s similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. This is also known as a pinched nerve.
A condition called diabetic neuropathy can lead to nerve damage in the feet as well as the hands. The feet are usually the first to have numbness.
This condition causes the small arteries in your fingers to spasm, or open and close very fast. This can cause numbness and affect your circulation.
Ulnar nerve entrapment
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the median nerve in the arm, but ulnar nerve entrapment affects the ulnar nerve that runs on the little finger’s side of the arm. This most commonly causes numbness in the pinkie and ring fingers.
Less common causes of finger numbness can include:
side effects of medications, such as chemotherapy drugs
Hansen’s disease, or leprosy
fractures of the wrist or hand
When to see your doctor
Sometimes, tingling and numbness can be symptoms of a medical emergency. This is true when a person is experiencing a stroke, which is when a blood clot or bleeding affects the brain. If you have any of the following symptoms get medical help immediately:
hand or finger numbness
a severe headache
If your symptoms start to occur on a regular basis, interfere with your daily activities, or cause a significant amount of pain and discomfort, see your doctor.
How is finger numbness diagnosed?
Your doctor will start diagnosing your finger numbness by taking a medical history and examining your arm, hand, and finger. In some cases, your doctor may recommend you see a medical specialist, such as an orthopedic doctor who specializes in caring for hands or a neurologist, who can test your nerve function.
Another common test doctors order when a person has finger numbness is an MRI scan. This scan helps them view areas where bones in the following areas may have slipped out of place:
Bones that slip out of place can cause compression on your nerves.
Blood tests may also help a doctor diagnose conditions that cause finger numbness, such as rheumatoid arthritis or vitamin B-12 deficiency.
How is finger numbness treated?
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medication to reduce inflammation. Examples include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
Another option is wearing a brace or splint. This will help you keep your elbow or wrist in a good position, so the nerve is less likely to be compressed.
In rare instances when OTC treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend more invasive ones. Steroid injections can help relieve inflammation. Surgery may reduce the nerve damage or reduce the bones that are pressing on the nerve. Names of these procedures include:
a cubital tunnel release
an ulnar nerve anterior transposition
a medial epicondylectomy
Resting your hand and wrist is usually one of the best ways to reduce inflammation when you’re at home. You can also apply ice to the affected area. Exercises to stretch the hand and wrist can also reduce discomfort. Examples of these exercises include:
Stretching out your fingers as wide as you can and holding the position for about 10 seconds.
Moving your hands around in a clockwise direction about 10 times. Reverse the direction to reduce muscle tension.
Roll your shoulders backward five times and then forward five times to keep them as relaxed as possible.
Repeat these exercises throughout the day to reduce tension in your muscles.
Can finger numbness be prevented?
Several of the causes associated with finger numbness are due to overuse injuries. This is when a person engages in repetitive motions and activities that can irritate or damage the nerves and cause numbness.
Ways to avoid repetitive motion injuries include:
practicing good posture and form when using a tool, keyboard, or another device that can result in repetitive motion injuries
taking a break from your activity every 30 minutes to one hour
stretching the muscles you’re using to reduce tension
purchasing ergonomic or supportive devices, such as a wrist brace or wrist rest for a keyboard
What is the outlook for people with finger numbness?
Finger numbness is usually treatable if it isn’t accompanied by emergency symptoms. Rest can help reduce overuse injuries. A doctor can also recommend more specific medical treatments depending on your condition’s underlying cause. As a general rule, the earlier you treat your finger numbness, the less likely it is to be a permanent symptom. This is why it’s important not to ignore your symptoms.
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