Paresthesia is described as a burning or tingling sensation that is often felt in the arms, legs or feet. This condition is commonly referred to as "pins and needles" and this temporary tingling usually disappears quickly. It may occur after sitting with the legs crossed for a long period of time or sleeping with the arm in a bent position. Paresthesia is the result of continual pressure on a particular nerve, but generally resolves quickly after the positioning of the affected area is changed. Paresthesia most often occurs in the extremities, such as the hands, feet, fingers and toes, but it can occur in other parts of the body as well.

While most short occurrences are quite common, chronic paresthesia, or intermittent paresthesia over a long period of time, is generally a sign of a neurological disease or traumatic nerve damage. This more serious form of paresthesia usually arises from nerve damage due to infection, inflammation, trauma or other abnormalities. Paresthesia is rarely due to a life-threatening disorder, but it may occur as a result of stroke or tumors.

Symptoms of Paresthesia

The most common symptoms of paresthesia include a prickling, numbness or burning feeling in a particular area of the body. In many cases, the sensation may cause some discomfort but it is not painful. These symptoms are often short term and go away once the pressure is relieved.

Causes of Paresthesia

Most cases of paresthesia are temporary and caused by pressure that may be placed on a nerve. Chronic paresthesia may be a symptom of a disease or damage to the nervous system. These conditions may include

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain tumors
  • Inflammation of the brain due to a viral or bacterial infection
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Alcoholism

Spinal cord injuries and strokes may also result in moderate to severe paresthesia

Diagnosis of Paresthesia

To diagnose paresthesia, a physical examination is performed as well as a review of symptoms and medical history. Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • Electromyography
  • X-ray

These tests are often performed to determine if there is any nerve damage and to identify the cause of chronic paresthesia.

Paresthesia Treatment

Treatment options for paresthesia may vary, depending on the underlying cause of the problem. Mild cases of paresthesia may be treated with restoration of circulation through exercise, stretching or massaging the affected limb. These methods are often effective at reducing the tingling and sensations of numbness. If the paresthesia is due to a chronic disease, treatments focuses on reducing symptoms through management of the underlying condition. Chronic paresthesia may be a symptom of nerve disease or nerve damage, and if left untreated, it can lead to permanent damage.

Additional Resources