What causes arm numbness?
Arm numbness can be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that either restrict blood flow or cause injury to the nerves.
Temporary arm numbness can occur after prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as due to fine motor activities (drawing) or sleeping the wrong way on your arm.
Arm numbness can occur with moderate to serious orthopedic and circulatory conditions, as well as disorders and diseases that damage the nervous system. In some cases, numbness is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.
Whether one or both arms are numb will help diagnose the underlying cause. Bilateral arm numbness is more likely to be caused by body-wide disorders including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or pernicious anemia. Numbness in one arm can be due to a pinched nerve, broken bone, or stroke.
Circulatory causes of arm numbness
Arm numbness can be caused by lack of blood flow to the arm due to such conditions as:
Arteriovenous malformation (tangled knot of arteries and veins)
Buerger’s disease (acute inflammation and clotting of arteries and veins)
Frostbite or extremely cold temperatures
Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
Orthopedic causes of arm numbness
Arm numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves including:
Broken bone or a cast that is too tight
Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disk disease in the neck)
Neck or spinal cord injury
Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure (such as from sleeping on your arm)
Neurological causes of arm numbness
Arm numbness caused by nerve compression or damage may be due to such conditions as:
Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)
Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)
Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves)
Spinal cord injury or tumor
Systemic lupus erythematosus (a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)
Vitamin B12 deficiency (as in pernicious anemia)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of arm numbness
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your arm numbness including:
Where are you feeling numb?
When did the numbness start?
How long does the numbness last?
Are there any activities that cause the numbness?
Are you experiencing other sensations, such as pain, burning or itchiness?
Do your arms, hands or fingers feel cold or warm?
What are the potential complications of arm numbness?
Any complications associated with arm numbness can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because numbness can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan outlined by your health care provider to reduce your risk of potential complications related to arm numbness, such as:
Inability to perform daily tasks
Loss of strength
Permanent loss of sensation
Poor quality of life
- Hand/Wrist/Arm Problems. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/526.html. Accessed July 29, 2013.
- Muscle function loss. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003190.htm. Accessed July 29, 2013.
- Numbness and tingling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003206.htm. July 29, 2013
What is arm numbness?
Arm numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) arms. The sensation may extend over the length of the arm and into the hands and fingers.
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What other symptoms might occur with arm numbness?
Arm numbness may occur with other symptoms or a combination of symptoms. For example, numbness, tingling and itchiness in combination may be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Arm numbness due to a bulging cervical disk (in your neck) can be associated with extreme pain that extends down the shoulder, arm, and certain fingers.