A sudden feeling of pins and needles or a prickling sensation on the skin is something most people would have experienced. It is usually attributed to nerve tingling that happens when a person doesn’t change their position or posture for a long time (like sleeping with an arm beneath the body or even sitting cross-legged for an extended period of time). This pins-and-needles feeling has a name: paresthesia.
Paresthesia is not something to worry about in most cases. But if an individual goes through it on a regular basis, then they need to see a doctor and find out the cause behind it.
What is paresthesia?
Paresthesia is an altered sensation that is not unpleasant. Most of the time, it is painless and harmless; only sometimes does it signal a medical issue.
“Paresthesia is when you feel an impulse or an abnormal sensation that’s not there,” says Dr Praveen Gupta, principal director and head of neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, Haryana. “This is basically because of nerve disorders, where the nerve perception gets altered so the nerve creates abnormal tingling. You would feel like your hands are crawling and abnormal current-like sensations over certain parts.”
Paresthesia: causes and symptoms
While paresthesia can affect any part of the body, the most affected are the limbs, hands, arms, legs and feet. It can be of two types:
- temporary paresthesia (which is fleeting). This occurs when a nerve gets pressed for a period of time. Symptoms can be tingling, feeling numb or a burning or cold sensation, or even feeling weakness.
- chronic paresthesia happens because of nerve damage, which itself can be of two types — radiculopathy (a condition in which nerve roots become compressed, irritated or inflamed) and neuropathy (occurs due to chronic nerve damage). A common cause of neuropathy is hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.
In cases of chronic paresthesia, a person can even experience a sharp pain that makes it difficult to use the affected limb, and it is best to see a neurologist.
Paresthesia: who is at risk?
Paresthesia is common during pregnancy. It is also seen in individuals who have had accidents that caused nerve damage (neuropathy), and if a person has suffered a stroke or a compressed nerve root (radiculopathy) or a pinched nerve in the neck, shoulder, and arm.
Certain medications could put a person at a risk for paresthesia — including those taken for seizures, some antibiotics, some HIV-treatment medicines and some types of chemotherapy.
Paresthesia can also happen if a person has type 1 or type 2 diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome (the small tunnel that goes from the wrist to the lower palm gets too narrow, causing pressure on the median nerve), multiple sclerosis or low levels of vitamins (especially vitamin B12, which is essential for nerve health).
Treatment of paresthesia
Paresthesia treatment depends upon the root cause. It may require lifestyle adjustments or physical therapy.
The tests recommended to diagnose paresthesia include X-ray, blood test or an MRI scan.
Prevention of paresthesia
Paresthesia is not always preventable, but a person can try to ensure an arm or a leg does not get pressed while they sleep. Wrist splints can also be used at night to alleviate the compression of the hand nerves.
Also helpful are avoiding sitting for long periods, refraining from any kind of repetitive movement and taking frequent breaks during repetitive activity.
“If one feels these sensations very frequently, then one should see a neurologist immediately,” says Dr Gupta. “Sometimes it can just be a minor nerve disorder or a larger issue of nerve damage.”
- Paresthesia is a tingling, pricking, pins-and-needles sensation of the skin that occurs while sitting in the same posture for a long time.
- Temporary paresthesia is caused when there is a pressure on a specific nerve; chronic paresthesia is caused by nerve damage.
- If it occurs rarely, then medical attention is not needed. But when noticed on a regular basis, paresthesia could indicate a medical condition.