Numbness in hands or fingers is a symptom that can be serious and should not be ignored. As with all health emergencies, call 911 or get emergency medical help if hand or finger numbness starts suddenly – especially if it occurs with weakness or inability to move, dizziness, or a sudden, severe headache.
Aside from emergencies, while numbness in your fingers or hands could be caused by several factors – including conditions like diabetes and various auto-immune diseases – it is frequently caused by some kind of nerve compression in your arm or wrist. A visit to your orthopedic hand and upper extremity specialist can evaluate for nerve-related causes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and/or cubital tunnel syndrome.
What is cubital tunnel syndrome and how does it cause numbness in hands?
The ulnar nerve is one of three major nerves in your arm, and runs from the outside edge of your hand all the way up to your neck. Compression of this nerve occurs most frequently on the inside of the elbow, causing tingling and numbness in hands and fingers – specifically the pinkie and ring fingers. Your orthopedic hand specialist will work with you to relieve the symptoms using conservative treatments such as using a brace or adjusting the frequency and nature of daily activities. If these changes do not help, or if you have significant nerve or muscle damage, you may need to look at surgery.
Numbness in hands and fingers: How is carpal tunnel syndrome different?
While carpal tunnel may also present with numbness in hands or tingling in fingers, carpal tunnel typically causes pain in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Carpal tunnel is caused by compression of the median nerve, which runs down the length of the arm but passes through the carpal tunnel at the wrist, before going into the hand.
Without treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome generally gets worse over time. Early diagnosis is often the difference between non-surgical treatment to alleviate the compression and surgical options to avoid permanent damage to the nerve.
Pain and numbness in hands, fingers and thumbs from carpal tunnel can be influenced by a variety of factors including gender, genetics, age, occupation and activity level. Older people and females are more susceptible to carpal tunnel, and a small or “tight” amount of space in the wrist anatomy may be a hereditary factor. Prolonged or repetitive motions can lead to carpal tunnel. Medical conditions that range from pregnancy to thyroid imbalances, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis can also increase the occurrence of the syndrome.
If wrist pain or numbness in hands occurs at night, inadvertently sleeping with bent wrists (which is common) may aggravate carpal tunnel.
Although some patients experience relief by shaking their hands in an attempt to improve the numbness, the relief is fleeting. What’s worse, given the frequency that these conditions present gradually or come and go, it’s easy to ignore their signs. That can be a mistake, however, because early diagnosis can allow for the use of non-invasive solutions such as splinting and bracing as well as NSAIDS, or forgoing certain activities that aggravate the symptoms. Delayed diagnosis and treatment, on the other hand, can lead to permanent or irreversible nerve damage.
See a specialist to get the right diagnosis
If you have numbness in hands or numbness in fingers, see your orthopedic hand specialist for a proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Your orthopedic hand surgeon will carefully examine, bend, flex, and test your wrists and arms. Strength assessments identify muscle weakness or atrophy and tapping along the corresponding nerve reveals sensitivity and numbness correlation. In addition to physical tests, nerve conduction studies can provide clear indication of nerve impingement.
Don’t ignore your symptoms – numbness in hands or fingers requires attention. Early diagnosis of hand and finger numbness can offer many non-surgical treatment and positive outcomes. Knowing what to look for makes a world of difference.