What causes hand numbness?

Hand 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 hand 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. Hand numbness can also be due to orthopedic conditions that compress a specific nerve, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disk disease in the cervical spine, and bony spurs.

Hand numbness may also include finger numbness or tingling. Pinky and ring finger numbness on the back and palm side of the hand can be a sign of entrapment or compression of the ulnar nerve in the arm, possibly due to problems with the elbow joint. However, the ulnar nerve can also be compressed at the shoulder, collar bone, or wrist. Numbness of the thumb, index, middle, and half of the ring finger are largely due to problems with the median nerve and may be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.

In some cases, hand 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 hand numbness

Hand 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 phenomenon (rare disorder that narrows blood vessels in the fingers and toes when they are exposed to cold, or sometimes from stress)

Orthopedic causes of hand numbness

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

  • Bone fractures or a cast that is too tight

  • 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

  • Neck injury

Neurological causes of hand numbness

Hand 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)

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves)

  • 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)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Questions for diagnosing the cause of hand numbness

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will most likely ask you several questions related to your hand 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?

What are the potential complications of hand numbness?

Because hand 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 hand numbness, such as:

  • Amputation

  • Chronic pain

  • Hand disability

  • Loss of strength

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Raynaud’s Phenomenon. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Raynauds_Phenomenon/default.asp.
  4. Ulnar nerve entrapment. OrthoInfo, American Academy of  Orthopaedic Surgeons.  http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00069.

What is hand numbness?

Hand numbness is an abnormal condition in which you feel a loss of sensation in your hands. You may feel numbness over the palm, back of the hand, fingers, or a combination of these places.... Read more about hand numbnessintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with hand numbness?

Hand 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. 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 hand numbness can help your doctor make ... Read more about hand 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

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