TINGLING IN THE HANDS AND PAIN IN THE ARM — TWO SYMPTOMS, ONE CAUSE?

Illustration of tingling hands.

© Anysh | shutterstock.com

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Do you find that your hands tingle regularly, or do your fingers “fall asleep”? Perhaps you are dealing with pain that seems to radiate up to your shoulder? Either way, these symptoms are rarely caused by nerve damage or nerve disorders (neuropathies). They are more likely the result of fasciae that are causing undue tension and pressure.

In this video, Roland will explain the relationship between your cervical spine and your fingers. Below, you can read about tingling hands and pain in the arm and shoulder in detail and also find out when we recommend that you see your doctor.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling self-help books on the treatment of pain conditions.

 
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Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, Dr. med. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary method to treat pain conditions. With the help of the so-called "osteopressure", where you press specific points on your body, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped entirely without medication or surgical intervention. This pain treatment allows you to alleviate pain by yourself. Find out how exactly this works in this article or our numerous YouTube videos.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on self-help against pain.

 
Read more

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, the physician Dr. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary new form of pain treatment: With the so-called "Osteopressur", in which certain points on your body are pressed, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped completely without medication or surgical intervention. It is particularly important that this pain treatment gives you the opportunity to help yourself against your pain in a self-determined way. You can find out exactly how this works in this article and in the numerous YouTube videos.

1. Tingling and Numbness in the Hands

Our pain specialist sums it up in the video: tingling fingers and hands that “fell asleep” often have something to do with our daily movements. These are usually very one-sided. For example, if you type for hours on a keyboard or perform monotonous rotating movements with your wrist, you repeatedly bring your joints into the same angles.

Joint Angles and Musculofascial Shortening

 Joint angles (such as your wrists and elbows) allow you to perform a variety of complex movements. If these angles are minimized in everyday life, they cause increased tension within your muscles and fasciae. This applies to arms and hands as well as legs, feet, and all other areas of your musculoskeletal system. Over time, the respective network of muscles and connective tissue adapts to the movement patterns you set for it. In other words:

If your muscles and fasciae are not regularly stretched, this system will become rigid and brittle. This is known as musculofascial shortening.

Especially in upper extremities like the arms, such shortenings quickly lead to all kinds of “tubes” around your wrist being compressed: blood vessels, nerves, and lymphatics. If the tissues’ pressure increases, the volume of these tubes decreases, and they become increasingly narrow. As a result, fluids flow more slowly, and the transmission of nerve signals goes haywire.

What is Tingling from a Medical Perspective?

Tingling is a feeling on the surface of the body. This often unpleasant or painful sensation (also known as a feeling of “pins and needles” or paresthesia) is caused by sensitive nerves or nerve endings (axons). As part of the peripheral nervous system, they conduct the signals to the brain via associated nerve tracts. If we talk about tingling in the sense of a disease symptom, then false or pathological stimuli is the reason.

The cause is usually a trapped nerve that can no longer supply itself with sufficient oxygen and nutrients, which impairs its ability to pass on information correctly. If a certain part of your body tingles, it is your brain signaling that you should “free” the nerve as soon as possible.

 What is Numbness from a Medical Perspective?

The failure of sensitive nerves can cause numbness in the limbs (extremities). For example, when the pressure on a particular nerve tract becomes too high, it results in lower activity levels. Alternatively, blood flow can be interrupted so that a specific part of the body is (temporarily) undersupplied and thus feels “numb.”

Why Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Cause Tingling and Numbness?

In carpal tunnel syndrome, nerves can become underactive as well as overactive. The median nerve (middle-of-the-arm nerve, see illustration) runs through the carpal tunnel, as do several blood vessels and the fingers’ tendons and flexor muscles. This is the “road” between the forearm and hand, formed by bone and connective tissue. If it becomes compressed or squeezed, causing increased tension, the median nerve will run out of functional space.

Illustration of carpal tunnel syndrome.

© decade3d – anatomy online | shutterstock.com

 The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome are:

  • After waking or at night, your hands can “fall asleep,” especially your fingers.
  • The tips of the thumb, index, and middle finger can have a painful tingling sensation, often accompanied by needle-stick-like sensations down to the forearm.1)Schuh, A., Das Karpaltunnelsyndrom — wann muss der Patient unters Messer? In: MMW-Fortschritte der Medizin; 2017, 159 (13), p. 59, 2)Friedebold, A. et al., Das Karpaltunnelsyndrom — eine klinische Übersicht. In: Zentralblatt  für Arbeitsmedizin, Arbeitsschutz und Ergonomie; 2009, 59 (8),  p. 243

Such paresthesia — the medical term for sensory disturbances (sensitivity disorders) — can represent an early phase of carpal tunnel syndrome. The good news is that it can normally be corrected. For example, after vigorously shaking your hands, the feeling within your fingertips quickly returns. However, chronic damage to the median nerve or compression of nearby blood vessels can cause these sensations to become permanent.

Where Else Can Tingling Sensations Come From?

Even if there is often a relatively harmless cause behind the tingling in your fingertips or hands, you should be aware of other possible triggers. Sensitivity disorders do not only occur in the context of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Polyneuropathies, for example, are often accompanied by a lack of sensation. Polyneuropathy is the generic term for diseases of the peripheral nervous system in which several nerve fibers are damaged. In such cases, the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord are always affected, usually motor and sensory nerves.
  • In the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), it is circulatory disorders, injuries, infections, and chronic neurological inflammations such as multiple sclerosis that can cause tingling and numbness. In rare cases, a tumor can also press on your vessels or nerves and lead to damage.
  • Diabetes, vitamin B12, and calcium deficiency also pose a risk. Imbalances in the metabolism and hormones can quickly put a strain on nervous and vascular functions.
  • Long-term alcohol use can damage the nerves.
  • Some types of medication can lead to tingling and numbness, but this is usually a short-term issue. Various antidepressants, antiepileptics, and antihypertensives are sometimes suspected of causing temporary sensory disturbances.
  • In addition, there is a list of other diseases in which carpal tunnel syndrome seems to occur more frequently. These include arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis of the wrist, an underactive thyroid gland, and various kidney diseases.3)Friedebold, A. et al., Das Karpaltunnelsyndrom — eine klinische Übersicht. In: Zentralblatt  für Arbeitsmedizin, Arbeitsschutz und Ergonomie; 2009, 59 (8),  p. 245

Did you know that those who are pregnant can sometimes wake up at night due to tingling hands? This is caused by fluid retention, which leads to pressure within the wrists, resulting in sensations associated with carpal tunnel syndrome.4)Friedebold, A. et al., Das Karpaltunnelsyndrom — eine klinische Übersicht. In: Zentralblatt  für Arbeitsmedizin, Arbeitsschutz und Ergonomie; 2009, 59 (8),  p. 245

A GP examining the patient's wrist.

© Chinnapong | shutterstock.com

When Should You See a Doctor for Tingling in Your Hands?

It is always better to be safe than sorry. If you are concerned about tingling in your hands, be sure to see a neurologist or orthopedist. This is especially important if:

  • You have already been diagnosed with diabetes,
  • The tingling begins suddenly for no apparent reason,
  • The feeling is strongly pronounced,
  • The sensations last longer than a few minutes,
  • The tingling returns at regular intervals.

 If this tingling is accompanied by numbness or paralysis on one side of the body (e.g., on the arm or one half of the face) or it affects the entire half of the body, see a doctor immediately. Should you also have vision or speech problems along with a headache; this could indicate that you have had a stroke. Even if such symptoms disappear, it is still vital to seek a professional’s advice to rule out permanent nerve damage.

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2. Arm and Shoulder Pain


Let us now move on to look at pain in the arm and shoulder. Have you already experienced such symptoms? If so, you are one of many individuals who suffer from the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome. The explanation is simple: The median nerve originates from a network of nerves whose pathways supply the arms and part of the shoulder.

 From the Hand to the Cervical spine — and Back

Brachial plexus is the technical term for the bundle of nerves that runs between the cervical spine through the shoulder and to the hands. Its fibers emerge from the spinal cord at the level of the final three cervical vertebrae and the first thoracic vertebrae of your back. The nerve then extends to the armpit before branching off to connect at each finger.

Therefore, we can see that a narrower carpal tunnel can impact other areas such as your neck and thoracic spine.

This is why pain starting at the wrist can sometimes “walk” up the forearm and lead to shoulder and back problems.

Illustration of the brachial plexus.

© Alila Medical Media | shutterstock.com (edited)

Unfortunately, this problem can also occur in the opposite direction. If an area within your cervical spine has been damaged or strained (such as by a herniated disc, cervical syndrome, or even a simple neck strain), these nerves can begin to fire irregularly. Tingling hands can then occur in isolation or be accompanied by shoulder/arm pain.

At this point, the circle is complete. This is because even the stubborn over-tensions that spread to the areas of the cervical spine, neck, shoulder, upper arm, and chest are a result of one-sided movement patterns. The areas affected will often relate to which parts of the body are placed under stress during everyday life. This can lead to shortened muscles as well as stiff fasciae in certain locations. Also, these conditions could compromise the space within the carpal tunnel. This may irritate the nerves in your arm and impact your shoulder or elbow joints. Regardless of the source of the tingling or pain, the cause is often the same.

What Can You Do Now?

If you notice that your muscular shortening mainly affects the chest, shoulder, or upper arm, you should specifically stretch the front part of your body. If you do this regularly, you will be able to decrease such stiffness and ensure a healthy carpal tunnel well into the future. Learn how to get rid of pain in the arm and tingling hands with our effective exercises in this short article.

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