What causes finger numbness?

Finger 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 finger numbness can be due to any activity that causes prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as fine motor activities (drawing), repetitive motion, and sleeping the wrong way on your arm. Finger numbness can also be due to orthopedic conditions that compress a specific nerve.

Numbness of the pinky finger and the ring finger together can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm, possibly due to problems with the shoulder, elbow, or wrist joint. Index finger numbness, along with abnormal sensations in the thumb and middle finger, is due to problems with the median nerve, which can be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, finger numbness is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.

Circulatory causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness can be caused by lack of blood flow due to such conditions as:

  • 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)
  • Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon (a condition in which blood vessels in the fingers and toes become narrow when they are exposed to cold, or sometimes from stress)

Orthopedic causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness may also occur because of moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that can lead to spinal or peripheral nerve damage including:

  • Neck injury
  • Broken finger affecting a nerve
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Cervical spondylosis (degenerative disk disease in the neck)
  • Herniated disk
  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as of the ulnar nerve in the arm

Neurological causes of finger numbness

Finger numbness caused by nerve compression, injury, or damage may be due to such conditions as:

  • Alcoholism
  • 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)
  • Neuroma (noncancerous growth of nerve tissue) in the finger
  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)
  • Spinal cord injury or tumor
  • Stroke
  • 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)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of finger numbness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your finger numbness including:

  • What fingers feel numb?
  • Is the palm or back side of the hand affected?
  • 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?

What are the potential complications of finger numbness?

Although numb fingers are rarely due to a serious disorder, the various causes of numbness can be associated with potential complications related to permanent nerve damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience any kind of persistent numbness or other unusual symptoms.

If the numbness in your fingers is due to a repetitive motion, often simple lifestyle changes can alleviate the problem. 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 finger numbness, such as:

  • Amputation
  • Chronic pain
  • Disability
  • Loss of strength
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent loss of sensation

References:

  1. 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.
  2. Ulnar nerve entrapment. OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00069.
INTRODUCTION

What is finger numbness?

Finger numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation or tingling in your fingers. For instance, you may feel your fingers going numb after holding your arm in the same position for a long period of time.

Finger numbness usually arises from a lack of blood supply to an area or damage to a nerve or nerves that supply the hand, such as in carpal tunnel synd... Read more about finger numbnessintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with finger numbness?

Finger numbness may also occur with other symptoms or combinations of symptoms. For example, numbness, tingling and itchiness in combination may be symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Numbness due to a bulging cervical disk (in your neck) can be associated with extreme pain that extends down the shoulder, arm, hand, and certain fingers. Any symptoms occurring with finger numbness can help your doct... Read more about finger numbnesssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Diabetic Neuropathy

This Article is Filed Under: Diabetic Neuropathy


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