Numbness

Numbness

Numbness is the absence, or severe reduction of normal sensation. Variations of this are a ‘dead’ feeling, or ‘cold pain’. There are many causes of numbness but these can be broken down into various types:

Trapped Nerve

A nerve may be under pressure from a soft tissue structure, or simply from adopting a particular posture, also known as a “trapped nerve”. Pressure on the nerve temporarily stops the nerve from functioning and, if left untreated, the function of the nerve may potentially be permanently lost:

  • My arm or leg has “gone to sleep” – this is a good example that many of us have experienced. Sleeping in an awkward position, perhaps with the elbow, knee or hip fully bent, squeezes the nerves around the joint. On waking the arm may feel ‘dead’ and only straightening the arm and moving it around brings it back to life and normal sensations return.
  • Sciatica – this is where one of the shock absorbing discs in the spine is damaged or inflamed and pushes onto one of the nerves exiting the spinal column.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – as the nerves that supply the hand pass through the wrist, there is a fibrous band that holds all the structures in place. If this becomes tight or there is swelling or inflammation underneath the fibrous band, pressure can occur on the nerves supplying the hand and numbness can result.
numb foot

Trauma

  • A heavy blow to the body may damage a large nerve, or cause bruising and swelling around it, which squashes it and stops it working properly.
  • A laceration (cut) make sever the nerve. Even if the nerve is surgically repaired, function and sensation may be lost.

Other common causes

A whole range of medical problems can affect nerve function and cause numbness, most often in the hands and feet. There are dozens of causes but the commonest examples being:

  • Diabetes – High blood sugars directly damages nerves.
  • Poor circulation – A lack of oxygen and nutrients to the nerves causes damage and reduced function.

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