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Dealing with Numb Hands or Feet

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As we go about our daily activities, it is not uncommon to occasionally experience a sensation of numbness or tingling in our hands or feet. Known as paresthesia, this is a temporary and harmless condition often caused by factors such as nerve compression, lack of blood flow, or positional stress. However, when this condition persists and becomes increasingly frequent, it could indicate an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

Why Do Hands or Feet Fall Asleep?

The human body contains a network of nerves that run throughout it. When these nerves become compressed or pinched, it can cause temporary paresthesia. Here are some common causes of nerve compression:

1. Nerve Compression

Nerve compression can be caused by a variety of factors such as tight clothing, jewelry, or even leaning on your elbow. In some cases, underlying medical conditions such as neuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome could also cause nerve compression.

2. Lack of Blood Flow

When the blood flow to your extremities is restricted, it can cause paresthesia. A common example of this is crossing your legs for an extended period of time. This puts pressure on your nerves and restricts blood flow, causing your foot to fall asleep.

3. Positional Stress

Any position that puts pressure on your nerves or blood vessels for an extended period of time can cause paresthesia. If you sit in a chair for too long or rest your arm on a table, it may cause numbness.

How Does This Problem Occur?

When nerve fibers are compressed, it can cause changes in the signals sent from the brain to the body, resulting in a lack of sensation and tingling. The more severe the pressure, the more intense the symptoms.

Consequences of Letting the Problem Persist

While paresthesia may seem harmless, ignoring it for long periods can cause the nerves to become permanently damaged. This can lead to a loss of sensation and even paralysis in the affected area. In some cases, nerve damage can also cause chronic pain and other complications.

How to Stop Hands or Feet Falling Asleep

If you are experiencing numbness or tingling sensations, there are several things you can do to alleviate the issue:

1. Move Your Body

When you feel numbness or tingling, move around to get your blood flowing. Stand up and walk around if possible. Even if you are sitting down, moving your arms and legs can help increase blood flow.

2. Stretching and Exercise

Stretching exercises can help increase flexibility and reduce muscle tension. Yoga, Pilates, and other low-impact exercises can also help by promoting blood circulation and improving body alignment.

3. Adjust Your Sleeping Position

If you frequently experience numbness or tingling while you are sleeping, you may need to adjust your sleeping position. Try sleeping on your back or switching to a more supportive pillow to maintain a neutral position for your neck.

4. Improve Your Desk Posture

If you work at a desk for long periods of time, make sure you are sitting in an ergonomic chair and have proper posture. Sit up straight and keep your feet flat on the ground. Take breaks every hour to move around and stretch if possible.

5. Use Ergonomic Furniture

Using ergonomic products such as keyboards, mouse, and chairs can help reduce the strain on your hands, wrists, and back. These products are designed to promote natural alignment and reduce the likelihood of nerve and muscle damage.

Other Factors That Can Worsen the Problem

Other lifestyle habits such as smoking, lack of sleep, and lack of exercise can also worsen paresthesia. These habits can lead to decreased blood flow, which can also lead to nerve compression.

When to Consult with a Doctor

If your symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to consult with your doctor. Some symptoms that may require medical attention include severe pain, inability to control your limbs, and weakness in your muscles.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of your symptoms. If the cause is nerve compression, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory medication or physical therapy. If the cause is vascular, they may prescribe medication to improve blood flow.


Paresthesia is a temporary condition but can become a more serious problem if ignored for long periods. By understanding the causes and preventative measures, you can continue your daily activities without worrying about numbness or tingling. If your symptoms persist or worsen, it is always better to consult with a medical professional to ensure proper treatment.


1. Can stress cause numbness or tingling in hands or feet?

Stress can worsen the condition but is not a direct cause of numbness or tingling.

2. Can injury cause paresthesia?

Injury can cause nerve compression, which can lead to temporary paresthesia.

3. What is neuropathy, and how is it treated?

Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage, and treatment depends on the underlying cause. Common treatment includes medication and physical therapy.

4. Can lack of sleep cause paresthesia?

Lack of sleep can worsen the condition, but it is not a direct cause.

5. When should I seek emergency medical attention for paresthesia?

If you experience severe pain, inability to control your limbs, or weakness in your muscles, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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