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Numbness in the hands and feet – what’s going on?

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We hear often about numbness/tingling or loss of feeling in the hands and feet.  It’s actually something that is very common in society and truthfully, there are quite a few different reasons why this may be occurring.

In reality, hand or foot numbness can be occurring from compromise that happens anywhere from the area that is affected (in the hand or foot) all the way up the limb, into the central area of the spine or spinal cord and also even higher up at the brain itself.  There is no doubt that sitting on the ground leaning back on your hands could cause them to “fall asleep” but we also know that hand numbness can be associated with MS which is a brain based neurological disorder.

So how do we know which is which?

Hand or foot numbness can come from either blood flow involvement or neurological involvement.  Often times when someone talks about HOW or WHEN the numbness occurs, this can help to differentiate between potential problems.  For example, if every time you fall asleep on your left side, your left arm goes numb, it would be prudent to consider that there is a compression of the shoulder girdle that’s limiting blood flow to the arm creating the numbness.  In contrast, if you’re loosing sensation in the feet over the past few years and there does not appear to be a physical position/movement that produces the numbness, we may want to consider issues related to neurological involvement or overall blood distribution in the body (central control issues) as a potential cause.

Obviously any conditions involving the central nervous system are more serious as it relates to your overall health and should be considered from a multitude of directions which would include blood work and diet investigation, but numbness that comes on from physical movements/positions can be equally annoying.  A more thorough history as well as physical exam is the starting point for understanding what is going on to lead you in the right direction to make positive changes.

Do you have any specific questions? I would be happy to discuss them; you can reach me at drkittleson@uclife.ca , leave a comment or PM us on FaceBook.

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