What causes paresthesia?

Paresthesia usually arises from nerve compression (pressure or entrapment) or damage. Paresthesia can be a symptom of a wide variety of diseases, disorders or that cause injury to the nerves.

Temporary paresthesia can be due to any activity that causes prolonged pressure on a nerve or nerves, such as sitting cross legged or bicycling long distance. Paresthesia can also occur with moderate to severe orthopedic conditions, as well as disorders and diseases that damage the nervous system. In some cases, paresthesia is a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated as soon as possible in an emergency setting.

Orthopedic causes of paresthesia

Paresthesia may also occur from moderate to serious orthopedic conditions that injure or damage the nerves, including:

  • Back or neck injury

  • Bone fractures or a cast that is too tight

  • Degenerative disk disease

  • Herniated disk

  • Nerve entrapment or nerve pressure such as from carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Osteoporosis

Neurological causes of paresthesia

Paresthesia can be the result of a variety of disorders and diseases that damage the nerves, including:

  • Alcoholism

  • Arteriovenous malformation (tangled knot of arteries and veins that press against the spinal cord)

  • Brain tumor

  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve or blood vessel damage due to high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes)

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain due to a viral or bacterial infection)

  • Heavy metal poisoning such as lead poisoning

  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord)

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder of the peripheral nerves from your spinal cord)

  • Spinal cord injury or tumor

  • Stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack  (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

  • Transverse myelitis (neurological disorder causing inflammation of the spinal cord)

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia)

Questions asked in diagnosing the cause of paresthesia

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to the abnormal sensations you are experiencing. Questions include:

  • What is the exact location of the abnormal sensation?

  • When did the sensation begin?

  • How long does it last?

  • Are there any activities that trigger the sensation?

What are the potential complications of paresthesia?

Because paresthesia can be due to a nervous system disease or nerve damage, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience any kind of paresthesia or other abnormal feelings. 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 including:

  • Chronic pain

  • Disability

  • Inability to breathe on your own

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Permanent pain

  • Poor quality of life


  1. Paresthesia. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paresthesia/paresthesia.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.

What is paresthesia?

Paresthesia is an abnormal condition in which you feel a sensation of burning, numbness, tingling, itching or prickling. Paresthesia can also be described as a pins-and-needles or skin-crawling sensation. Paresthesia most often occurs in the extremities, such as the hands, feet, fingers, and toes, but it can occur in other parts of the body.

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What other symptoms might occur with paresthesia?

Paresthesia sensations can be described in many different ways, including tingling, numbness, pins and needles, itching, and burning. Paresthetic sensations may be accompanied by pain and other symptoms depending on the part of the body that is affected. Any associated symptoms can help your doctor make a diagnosis.
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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 7, 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.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves, Diabetic Neuropathy