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Pins and Needles - Paraesthesia

February 2013

Pins and NeedlesPins and Needles

Almost everyone experiences pins and needles at some stage in their lives, but often as we age it becomes more commonplace.

The name really is the perfect description of the pricking, tingling and sometimes numbing sensation in various parts of our body - usually in our hands and arms or feet and legs. Sometimes it becomes so bad that the limb feels totally numb as if it has “fallen asleep”.

There is actually a proper medical name for this condition - paraesthesia.

The simplest cause of pins and needles is pressure; when a part of the body is pressed quite hard some or all of the blood supply to the nerves in that region can be cut off. It is usually a very temporary sensation that cures itself once the pressure is removed and the limb or area can return to normal. Crossing ones legs or kneeling down are typical actions that can cause pins and needles.

However, as we get older, pins and needles become more common because certain diseases can irritate the nerves, or interfere with the blood supply and nerves. Either way, this can cause the sensation of pins and needles. Arthritis, for instance, can interfere with both nerves and blood supply and sometimes be a cause of pins and needles. In fact, almost any condition that can damage a nerve can result in tingling or pins and needles.

If the pins and needles are not relieved by altering your position and they last for a prolonged time, there are a number of specific problems that can be the cause. It could be due to a trapped or compressed nerve, sciatica or carpal tunnel syndrome. Surprisingly vitamin deficiencies can result in pins and needles in certain cases, as can certain metabolic disorders including diabetes.

Long lasting pins and needles can also occasionally be caused by some types of medications and even alcohol misuse, although this is fairly rare.

If you are suffering from pins and needles, the obvious first action is to move the suffering area around to try and stop the pressure that is causing the problem. Loosen any tight clothing or shoes; get up and shake the affected limb if you have been sitting down a long time or resting on it; gently move your head around if the pins and needles are in the top of the back, shoulders and neck area.

However, if the pins and needles recur in the same area when there is no obvious cause, or if the symptoms take a long time to go away once you have changed position or removed what you think might be the cause, then you need to seek medical help. There could be a serious underlying cause.

Accidents sometimes occur when a leg or arm has severe pins and needles and you try and use it before it is properly recovered. Standing up on legs that have “gone to sleep” can help recovery, but can also be dangerous and result in a fall if you put weight on the limb before it is fully back to normal.

Because most people experience pins and needles at sometime in their life, the condition is not always treated with the seriousness it deserves.

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