Ever get numbness or tingling in your hands or fingers? You’re not alone—it’s a common issue that can range from momentary and minor (for example, from resting with your arm in a weird position), to recurring and severe. It can stem from a variety of underlying issues, and it can indicate bigger problems developing, such as a pinched nerve root or carpal tunnel syndrome.
So how can you figure out what’s causing your hand numbness, and what can you do about it?
Determining the Cause of Hand Numbness
Many factors can cause numbness in the hands and fingers—the list includes not only repetitive strain issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, but things you might be surprised about, such as diabetes, alcoholism, Lyme disease, ganglion cysts, and autoimmune disorders.
Other symptoms can accompany numbness, such as pain, itching, and muscle wasting. According to WebMD, “In such cases, tingling may be a sign of nerve damage, which can result from causes as varied as traumatic injuries or repetitive stress injuries, bacterial or viral infections, toxic exposures, and systemic diseases such as diabetes.”
For office workers and many others, repetitive strain injuries and neck issues (causing nerve root compression) are the most common reasons for hand numbness.
If the issue is recurring or troubling, it’s a good idea to see a physician or pain specialist in order to get a diagnosis. Be ready to provide them with details about when and how often the symptoms occur, the conditions, the severity, etc., which will help them identify the source of the problem.
Is Your Hand Numbness Coming From Your Neck or Your Arms?
How can you know where the source of the problem is?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a type of peripheral neuropathy (compression of nerves that are distant from the spine) that occurs in the wrist due to the collapse of the connective tissue “tunnel” the nerves pass through to connect your arm and hand. This can lead to numbness, pain, and weakness in the affected hand.
Cervical radiculopathy is the medical term for degeneration or misalignment in the neck causing compression or irritation of nerve roots, which can still lead to symptoms way down in your hands. Do you habitually jut your neck forward when using your devices? If so, you may be doubling or tripling the effective weight of your head on your neck and putting yourself at risk for broken down vertebrae and pinched nerves.
To determine which of these issues may be the source of your symptoms, doctors can perform a variety of physical tests designed to see what positions or movements hurt you and which alleviate the discomfort.
Technology can provide additional insights, as Dr. Brian Subach explains: “If a careful physical examination cannot disclose the cause of the symptoms, whether it be the neck or the carpal tunnel, then many times an EMG (electromyogram) test may be utilized.”
How to Relieve Hand Numbness From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you suspect carpal tunnel syndrome (or you want to be proactive in avoiding it), in addition to seeing a physician, a good first step is to make sure you are not resting the front of your wrists on a flat, hard surface (like a bare desk) as you work.
You might also try the following approaches to improve your posture and work habits.
- Keep your mouse as close to your body and keyboard as possible
- Switch hands for using your mouse or trackpad—this will give your dominant hand a rest and help break up the repetitive strain
- Use your whole arm when moving your mouse, rather than just your hand and wrist
- Take rest or stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes
- Switch your traditional mouse for a vertical ergonomic mouse
- Use a trackpad some of the time
- Invest in an ergonomic keyboard
- Make sure your desk is the right height for your body
- Keep your wrists up off your desk, or at least cushioned with a wrist rest.
You can also use specific exercises and stretches to strengthen and free up your wrists, such as bending and flexing your fingers and wrists in different positions. Be sure to warm up first by rotating your wrists in both directions and spreading your fingers wide apart several times.
Another simple technique for freeing up your hands is by grasping each finger one at a time and simply tugging gently straight out from your hand, spending 5-10 seconds on each finger (and don’t forget your thumbs!).
Addressing Hand Numbness From a Pinched Nerve Root
If you suspect your hand numbness is caused by cervical radiculopathy (a neck problem), it’s a good idea to see a healthcare professional. Treatment approaches can vary widely from posture modification to gentle therapies to surgery. Here are a few options.
Focus on posture
In today’s world, one of the worst and most common postural problems is computer neck—jutting the head forward and down to look at devices. You can retrain your habitual postures with reminders, wearable technologies, and body awareness practices such as the Alexander Technique. Using adjustable office equipment so that you can set up your workstation to fit your body also makes a huge difference.
Strengthen and balance your muscles to support optimal movement with the guidance of a trained professional. Typical goals include reducing pain and stiffness and improving range of motion.
Massage, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, and acupuncture may all provide pain relief and help free up pinched nerves. However, without changing your habits, the problem will likely return.
In some cases, especially where other methods aren’t resolving the issue, spinal surgery may be recommended. This might include removing or replacing a disc and/or fusing two or more cervical vertebrae.
If you’re experiencing hand numbness or tingling often, it probably isn’t going to get better on its own if you keep doing what you’ve been doing. Take it as a sign that you need to make some changes in how you work, and possibly get help from a qualified specialist.
Let us know how it goes, and please share this article with anyone you know who has this problem, especially if they’re ignoring it.
To your health!