What is paresthesia? Understanding the “pins and needles” feeling

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Have you ever felt a burning, tingling or numbness in certain parts of your body? If so, you may have paresthesia, commonly known as the pins and needles sensation. This sensation usually occurs in the arms and legs, but other areas can also be affected.

A tingling sensation in your feet or hands can be frustrating, but there are treatments and other easy ways to relieve it.

Paresthesia occurs when a nerve becomes irritated from excessive pressure and starts sending extra signals to the body. While this is a temporary condition that can occur when your body part falls asleep, for some people it can lead to a permanent problem or be a symptom of a serious illness.

Causes of paresthesia

Some common causes of transient and chronic paresthesia include:

Temporary:

  • Pinched or compressed nerve
  • panic attacks
  • whiplash
  • dehydration
  • hyperventilate
  • to attack
  • repetitive movements
  • circulatory disorders

chronic:

  • toxic exposure
  • serious infections
  • medicines
  • systematic disease
  • hereditary disorders
  • hyperthyroidism
  • nutritional deficiencies

Usually you have a tingling sensation in your hands, legs or feet, but it can also occur anywhere in your body. You may experience itching, burning and tingling, or a tingling sensation all over your body.

Why do you have pins and needles?

This sharp feeling is actually a sign that the nerve is irritated and is sending more signals to the body than usual. When your nerve is pinched or compressed for a long time, it causes a blockage and does not get the energy and oxygen it needs to send signals to the brain.

This constant pressure on the nerve causes a tingling sensation all over the body, especially in the hands and legs. The feeling disappears as soon as the pressure is released.

You can experience temporary paresthesia at any time – this can happen when you sleep with your arms under your pillow or when your legs are crossed. Chronic paresthesia, on the other hand, can last for a long time and is a sign of an underlying health problem.

Paresthesia treatment

Treatment options mainly depend on the cause. While the temporary will go away on its own after a while, there are some ways to reduce the tingling sensation.

Rest

Getting rest is one of the best things you can do for a pinched nerve. Stop all activities that may put pressure on the nerve and allow it to heal properly. A person with carpal tunnel syndrome can use a wrist splint to immobilize their wrist.

Medicines

Certain medications can also be taken to relieve pain and reduce swelling and tightness. Medications can also help reduce inflammation, but they should be taken as prescribed and recommended by the doctor.

Medications can help relieve pain and swelling.  (Photo via Pexels/Pixabay)
Medications can help relieve pain and swelling. (Photo via Pexels/Pixabay)

physiotherapy

Physical therapy can also be effective in relieving symptoms and helping build muscle strength. Strong, healthy muscles can relieve excess pressure and also prevent it from returning.

If the above treatment options fail to provide relief, the doctor may recommend surgery to relieve pressure on the pinched and compressed nerves. Surgery may include removal of a bone spur or carpal ligament, depending on the problem and severity of symptoms.

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