What causes the feeling of pins and needles?

Have you ever felt like your arms, legs or feet have fallen asleep after being in a position for too long, followed by a tingling sensation, as if you were being pricked by tiny needles?

Also known as paraesthesia, this prickly, burning, tingling, numb, itchy sensation is usually harmless. In in some cases, though, it can be a sign of something more serious.

What causes the tingling?

It usually happens if you lean or lay awkwardly on your arm or leg. This can put pressure on a nerve or reduce the blood supply to the area you’re resting on. It usually doesn’t last very long if you change positions but if it persists for a long period, then it may be due to another condition which affects your nerves or blood flow.

 Common causes of chronic pins and needles:

  • A blood sugar condition like diabetes that can damage your nerves over time.
  • An injury or accident that causes nerve damage.
  • A stroke or mini stroke. This affects your blood flow which is cut off and doesn’t flow to the brain.
  • A pinched nerve. This can be caused by an injury or overuse in your neck, shoulder or arm.
  • Multiple sclerosis. A disease that affects your central nervous system and how your body feels.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. This happens when the small tunnels that go from your wrist to your lower palm become too narrow, and causes pain and numbness in your wrist, hand, fingers and forearm.
  • Low levels of Vitamin B. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause pins and needles, Vitamin B is important for nerve health.
  • Certain medication. Some types of antibiotics, anti-seizure medication and chemotherapy can cause nerve irritation.
  • This condition is where there’s pressure on the sciatic nerve which starts from your lower pelvis and ends by your buttocks and legs. This is a common pregnancy condition that brings on numbness and pain in the legs and back. 
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Treatment and prevention

Pins and needles usually stop after you change positions and there’s less pressure on your nerves. But, if you regularly get pins and needles which take longer to fade away, you must talk to your doctor immediately.

If your doctor suspects an underlying nerve condition, you may need to get an X-ray, blood test or MRI (a scan that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to take detailed images of areas in your body).

Treatment will depend on the cause of your pins and needles. For example, if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, your doctor may suggest rest, anti-inflammatory medication and splinting. If you have an irritated nerve, you may need physiotherapy or surgery to decrease the pressure and improve your nerve functioning.

To lower your risk of getting pins and needles, try not to sit in awkward positions or lean uncomfortably for too long. This will ensure that you don’t put too much pressure on your nerves.