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Pins and Needles

Common causes of pins and needles

Paraesthesia is the medical term that describes the peculiar sensation of pins and needles or even tingling. This occurs when a nerve is not functioning properly. We may all have experienced waking in the morning and, when moving our arm, felt pins and needles down into our hand. During the night we have bent our elbow and leaned on our arm and we often describe this as our arm “going to sleep”. As we stretch the arm out and the nerve is no longer compressed, normal function returns. As it does, and the nerve resets itself. Tingling and pins and needles can be the temporary sensation that we experience for these few minutes.

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Medical Causes of Pins and Needles

There are more significant medical situations that cause paresthesia. Physical compression of a nerve may alter its function and reduce its activity.

  1. A common example of this is when one of the shock absorbing discs in the spine becomes damaged, bulges and pushes onto one of the roots of the Sciatic Nerve. We may then experience pins and needles down our leg.
  2. The branches of the Sciatic Nerve can be squashed by a muscle caused the Piriformis which is located in the center of one our bottom cheeks. When this muscle becomes tight or goes into ‘spasm’ it can squash those Sciatic Nerve roots and once again those pins and needles can occur all the way down the leg to the foot and even into the toes.
  3. Similarly, if the disc damage is in the neck, precisely the same mechanism can cause pins and needles down the arm and into the fingers.

There are many medical conditions wherein paraesthesia can occur. The most common of these are:

  1. Diabetes – this can permanently damage small nerve function and result in a range of abnormal symptoms including paresthesia. This commonly occurs in the hands and feet and is referred to as a ‘glove and stocking’ distribution.
  2. Poor circulation – when the blood vessels supplying the limbs with blood become narrowed, this leads to a lack of oxygen and nutrients called ‘ischaemia’. This poor blood flow to the limbs can result in possible permanent damage to the nerves.
  3. A whole range of other medical scenarios where the mechanism of nerve damage is not quite understood; anything from an under-active thyroid to Mercury poisoning.

Naturally, the correct treatment for each of these scenarios naturally depends on the primary cause and hence investigations to establish the correct diagnosis is very important.

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