When Should I Be Worried About Numbness and Tingling?


Numbness is the description of the loss of feeling or sensation in a part of the body. Numbness is frequently accompanied by or combined with other sensation changes, such as burning or tingling, which creates a pins-and-needles feeling. Numbing and tingling in your arms and legs are abnormal sensations that are often the result of disorders of the nerves. These feelings may occur along one nerve that runs through one side of your body, or it may happen symmetrically on both sides of your body. There are a variety of different reasons why numbing and tingling may occur. In many situations, it’s not serious, such as your arm “falling asleep” from laying on it the wrong way, but if these “symptoms” occur after you have been involved in an accident, especially if you may have sustained spinal cord injuries, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Here is some brief information about numbness and tingling and its causes and when to be worried. 

Causes of Numbness and Tingling

Numbness and tingling are often caused by damage, compression, or irritation of the nerves. Depending on the extent of damage, a single branch of nerves or several nerves may be affected. For instance, a slipped disk may affect several nerves or a spinal cord injury that you sustained in an auto accident may result in damage to the most sensitive, and the longest nerve fibers, such as the nerves going to your legs and feet, may cause numbness and tingling. Numbness generally affects the nerves that are located on the periphery of the body. When experiencing only numbness, it typically isn’t associated with life-threatening disorders, such as a tumor or stroke. Your medical doctor will need to know detailed information about numbness and tingling as well as other symptoms you may be experiencing in order to diagnose the cause. Some of the most common causes of numbness and tingling in arms, hands, legs, and/or feet may include:

  • Brain and nervous system conditions, such as spinal cord injuries
  • Trauma or overuse conditions, such as frostbite or Brachial plexus injury
  • Chronic conditions, such as amyloidosis (an abnormal buildup of proteins in the organs), multiple sclerosis, or diabetes
  • Infectious diseases, such as syphilis or Lyme disease
  • Side effects of treatments, such as anti-HIV drugs or chemotherapy drugs
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Vasculitis
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm

Numbness in Back or Neck 

Numbness and tingling that is associated with back or neck pain, muscle spasms, arm or leg pain, and/or a rash require a visit to a medical professional. If you are experiencing numbness and tingling that is also associated with paralysis, weakness, or loss of bowel or bladder control, it is important that you seek medical attention immediately. Also, if you experience symptoms that include changes in your vision or speech, confusion, or loss of confusion, you should go to the local emergency room. In these situations, you should seek medical advice whether the numbness and tingling came on suddenly or has been going on for a while because numbness in your back or neck is often associated with injuries to the spinal cord. 

Should You Be Worried?

There are many possible reasons why you may be experiencing numbness and tingling. Some of the causes may be harmless; however, some of the causes may be life-threatening. It’s important to take note of when the numbness and tingling began, such as following a significant injury like a fall or a car accident. You should seek emergency help or call 9-1-1 if your numbness and tingling begins suddenly, involves an entire leg or arm, or follows a recent head injury. You should also seek emergency medical care if the numbness and tingling are also accompanied by confusion, dizziness, paralysis or weakness, sudden and severe headache, and/or difficulty talking. You should schedule an office visit with your doctor if the numbness and tingling affect both sides of your body, comes and goes, gradually begins or worsens, is related to repetitive motions, or only affects a part of your limbs, such as a finger or toe.

Although the potential causes of numbness and tingling are extremely varied, certain causes are of greater concern than others. It is important that you visit a medical professional in order for you to undergo a physical and to help determine if your medical history or a recent injury is the cause of your symptoms. When visiting your medical doctor, they will generally conduct the diagnostic testing and procedures that are necessary to provide a proper diagnosis as well as recommend the proper treatment. If you have recently been involved in an automobile accident, sustained an injury at work, or even started taking a new prescription, it is extremely important to seek medical treatment for the numbness and tingling as these symptoms may be the result of the accident or your body being introduced to a new treatment.

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