Pins and Needles

Reviewed By Anil Ghimire, MD

Tingling and numbness are the loss of normal sensation in the various parts of body. Tingling is the prickling sensation also known as pins and needles and it is usually felt in hands and feet. Numbness is when one cannot feel any sensation in part of his/her body.


Why does it matter?

You will generally experience numbness or pins and needles when you are sitting crossed-legs because such awkward positions    press your nerves or blood vessels that supply to those nerves. When you have some disease that traps or presses the nerves, you will feel numbness or tingling, as it is those nerves that carry such sensations to the brain. It can sometimes be a sign of some serious diseases like diabetes or problem of the spine.

Tingling is experienced as an unpleasant feeling in a specific area like that of pin pricks or shooting pain which can travel down from arm to leg or any one of them. You do not feel anything even if you are pricked with needle on the specific area where you feel the numbness.



There are various causes of tingling and numbness. Most common or important ones are discussed below:

  • Trapped nerve: Tingling and numbness can be caused by a trapped nerve due to back issues or prolapsed disc etc. The nerve gets trapped because of the pressure exerted on it hence causing pins and needles anywhere in the body, from head to toe, depending on where it is trapped. This may also impair the function of the part of body affected. There is a condition called carpel tunnel syndrome in which nerve trapping occurs at wrist resulting in the loss of grip as well as pain, tingling and numbness at affected hand.
  • Pressure: If undue pressure is exerted on the nerves due to prolonged sitting on feet or wearing tight clothing, for example, it can cause tingling and numbness. This is usually reversible which means, if the pressure is relieved on time it gets better and has no serious consequences.
  • Injury: Injury to a nerve can cause numbness and tingling in the part of body being supplied by the affected nerve. For example if nerve in neck is injured, numbness could be felt anywhere along the arm whereas back injury might cause the same in legs.
  • Diabetes: When the blood sugar is not under control for several years, there can be damage in the small nerves beginning in the fingers and toes, hands and feet. This is called peripheral neuropathy. When you are unable to feel with your legs or hands, there is risk of injury from burn, prick, fall etc.
  • Medicines: There are some medicines whose side effects are numbness or tingling resulting from the nerve damage. Such medicines include anticancer drugs, antiretroviral or antitubercular drugs, metronidazole, etc.
  • Alcohol & Tobacco: People who take a lot of alcohol or tobacco can develop serious conditions that cause tingling or numbness.
  • Vitamin Deficiency: Strict vegetarians and people with disease called pernicious anemia have deficiency of Vitamin B 12 which can cause tingling and numbness, apart from anemia.
  • Diseases that damage nerves: There are several diseases which affect the nervous system and cause tingling or numbness. Some of them are stroke, brain tumors and multiple sclerosis. Though they are relatively rare as cause of numbness or tingling, they are very serious conditions.


When to seek medical care

  • If you develop sudden weakness of limbs, loss of speech, unconsciousness or failure to control of your urine or stool, blurring of vision or blackout, etc., you should immediately see the doctor, preferably in the Emergency room.
  • If you have tingling or numbness following injury to head, neck or back or you get a sudden pain in the neck or back, it may be a serious condition that requires you to consult doctor immediately.
  • If you have tingling and numbness along with the manifestation of other diseases like diabetes, you should be alarmed and consult the doctor.
  • You should also seek medical attention if you have attacks of tingling and numbness times and again, without obvious cause or you are not recovering completely.



The likely cause of numbness or tingling primarily determines whether or not you need specific treatment. The diagnosis of the cause also indicates which medicine, surgery or physical therapy to use for treatment. Some of the serious causes need immediate investigation and treatment through the emergency department while others are treated by regular outpatient follow up. You may be referred to specific specialists like neurologist or orthopedic surgeon for evaluation and definitive management.

However, there are certain things you may try yourself to reduce the symptoms of numbness and tingling. Those include:

  • Loosen any tight shoes or clothing.
  • Avoid lifting of heavy weight, poor posture or repetitive movements in order to avoid neck or back problems.
  • Take regular breaks at work, do yoga and keep good posture all times.
  • Shake the limbs or move toes or get up if you are seating or leaning in the same position for a long time.
  • Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Stop medications causing numbness or tingling, if applicable.
  • Control your diabetes with proper diet, exercise, medicine and regular follow up.
  • If you have deficiency of Vitamin B 12, take dietary supplements upon consultation with your doctor.
  • Avoid certain risky activities like driving if you have bothersome numbness or tingling.
  • Regularly practice physiotherapy if your doctor has recommended it for your condition.

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