Few sensations can be as bothersome as pins and needles or paresthesia. You usually feel the tingling or prickling sensation on your hands or feet after leaning or lying awkwardly for a long time. It's OK to experience it once in a while, but what if you experience it frequently? There are many ways to get rid of pins and needles, depending on what causes the sensation.
Causes of Pins and Needles and Treatment
Transient pins and needles usually occur when sustained pressure is placed on the nerves, such as when you sit cross-legged for too long. Chronic pins and needles however, may be a symptom of a more serious illness. Treatment of pins and needles depends on what's causing the sensation. The following are the common causes of the sensation and the appropriate treatment.
Transient pins and needles: Common, temporary pins and needles are caused by sustained pressure on nerves or blocked blood flow in the arms, hands, legs, feet, and other parts of the body. Sustained pressure on nerves cuts off communication between your brain and your limbs. It also squeezes arteries, stopping them from carrying nutrients to cells, and making them behave abnormally. When you lift the pressure off your limbs, your brain receives jumbled, erratic messages that feel like pins and needles. The sensation disappears on its own within a few seconds or minutes.
Treatment: You can just wait for the sensation to go away on its own. If you tend to experience pins and needles that last for minutes, however, reduce the time through the following methods:
- Limbs and other body parts: Rock your head from side to side to painlessly remove the sensation in less than a minute. The rocking motion should ease blood flow into your head, and also flex the nerve pathways that have been compressed.
- Arms: A tingly arm is usually the result of compression in the bundle of nerves in the neck. Loosen your neck muscles to relieve the pressure. Moving your neck though won't affect facial peresthesia, an early stage of Bell's palsy, because the nerves of the scalp and face don't pass through the neck.
- Hands: If your hand or arm has “fallen asleep,” you can awoken it quickly by clenching and unclenching your fist several times. The muscle movement will stimulate the nerves and help the limb to return to normal.
- Legs or feet: You can get rid of the sensation of pins and needles in your legs or feet by standing up and walking around. You can also jog or jump to get the blood flowing quickly.
Chronic Pins and Needles
If your paresthesia happens frequently, it's probably caused by a more serious underlying illness. The following are the common conditions that cause chronic pins and needles, and their treatment.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located in the palm of your hand that protects a main nerve and nine tendons. Swollen and inflamed tendon membranes or bone spurs reduce the amount of room inside the wrist and squash the main nerve. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include pins and needles, pain, numbness, and weakness of the hand. (Learn how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome)
Treatment: Some people with mild symptoms can ease discomfort in their hands by resting them more frequently, and applying cold packs on the swollen areas. If these techniques don't work for you however, you can try the following nonsurgical and surgical therapies to reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
- Wrist splint: Use a splint to hold your wrist while you're asleep to relieve nighttime pins and needles and numbness. This technique is more effective if you've had only mild to moderate symptoms for less than a year.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are drugs with analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effects, which reduce pain, fever and inflammation. They can relieve paresthesia and pain from carpal tunnel syndrome only if you have an associated inflammatory condition. If no inflammation is involved, NSAIDs are unlikely to relieve the sensation.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids regulate inflammation, carbohydrate metabolism, behavior, and other bodily processes. Your doctor may use a corticosteroid, such as cortisone, to relieve paresthesia or pain in your hand. Oral corticosteroids are not as effective as injections for treating carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Surgery: Surgery is your best option if nonsurgical treatments provide little or no relief from your symptoms. Surgical procedures for carpal tunnel syndrome usually involves cutting the ligament that presses on your nerve. The surgeon may use a device called an endoscope that allows him to see inside your carpal tunnel, and make small incisions in your hand. He may also make an incision on the palm of your hand directly over the carpal tunnel to release the compressed nerve.
Neuritis: Neuritis occurs when the nerves of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) become inflamed. The peripheral nervous system extends outside the central nervous system, and includes limbs and other organs. Neuritis can be caused by diseases, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome and pernicious anaemia. Overconsumption of alcohol may also cause the condition, since alcohol is toxic to nerves in large amounts.
Treatment: Treatment for neuritis depends on the disease that causes it. The following are some general treatment options for all kinds of neuritis.
- Therapy, rest and diet: Different kinds of therapies can be used to treat neuritis, including: physical, vocational, or occupational therapy. Plenty of bed rest also helps to relieve the stress in the affected nerves. Eat a high-calorie diet rich in vitamins, especially B-complex, to restore the normal function of your limbs. Avoid alcohol because it will only add more toxicity to your nerves.
- Soya bean milk: A cup of soya bean milk mixed with a teaspoon of honey improves the the nervous system with its rich concentration of vitamin B, glutamic acid, and lecithin. Prepare soya bean milk by soaking the beans in water for about 12 hours. Remove the skin, and turn the beans into a fine paste using a grinding machine. Mixed the paste with water, three times its quantity, and then boil the mixture on a slow fire. Finally, strain the mixture, add sugar, and you're done.
- Medications: Over-the-counter analgesics or pain medications can be used If the sensation of pins and needles is too severe. Neuritis can sometimes cause stabbing pains, which could be reduced by antidepressants and anticonvulsants like phenytoin and carbamazepine. Talk to your doctor about what's the best medication for your paresthesia.
Peripheral neuropathy: This condition is characterized by lack of sensory information in the brain due to damaged sensory nerves. It causes paresthesia, pain, and numbness in your hands and feet. Sensory nerves may be damaged because of traumatic injuries, infections, and exposure to toxins. Overconsumption of alcohol, diabetes, and other metabolic problems may also cause the illness.
Treatment: The first goal of treatment is to correct the underlying cause of the illness; for instance, whether it's diabetes, or too much exposure to harmful substances such as lead. Once the underlying cause is addressed, treatment moves on to relieve the painful symptoms, including pins and needles. The following are medications used to treat the symptoms of neuropathy:
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter medications are used to relieve mild symptoms, while prescription painkillers are used for more severe symptoms. Drugs containing opiates, like codeine, can result in dependence, sedation, or constipation, so they are only prescribed if other treatments fail.
- Lidocaine patch: Lidocaine is a local anesthetic used to relieve itching, burning and pain due to inflammation. Apply the lidocaine-containing patch on your limb that feels pins and needles to relieve the sensation. You can use up to three patches a day without any side effects.
- Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressant medications, such as nortriptyline and amitriptyline can relieve pain caused by neuropathy, as well as depression. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes can also be reduced by taking duloxetine, a selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor.
- Anti-seizure medications: If you're suffering from peripheral neuropathy, you'll likely have seizures along with chronic paresthesia. Drugs such as phenytoin, carbamazepine, and gabapentin can be used to treat nerve pain and epilepsy. Side effects may include dizziness and drowsiness.
Other Causes of Pins and Needles
There are several other causes of paresthesia or pins and needles aside from the ones mentioned, including:
- Menopause (For menopause treatments, learn how to get rid of menopause)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Radiation poisoning
All of these conditions require different treatment procedures and diagnostic techniques. Your doctor may not be able to immediately determine the cause of your paresthesia because of the wide range of possible causes. He may do some nerve tests and blood tests to rule out such causes.
The best way to prevent experiencing pins and needles is to maintain good posture (learn how to improve your posture), whether you're sitting, standing up, lying down. Make sure that your limbs are well-rested, and that the flow of blood is not interrupted. Go see your doctor immediately if you feel the sensation more and more frequently, and if it's accompanied by stabbing pain and numbness.