Why do numbness and tingling occur?
Each spinal nerve contains a sensory nerve component. Its branches are distributed in a specific area, which may overlap with other spinal nerve branches to ensure full coverage over the entire surface of the body. The sense of touch is part of our sensory nervous system. Information received by the peripheral nerve endings on the skin is transmitted to the brain by the sensory nerves, allowing us to perceive, analyze and to react to different stimuli.
Both "numbness" and "tingling" are abnormal tactile sensations (paresthesia). "Numbness" refers to the complete loss of touch sensation or decreased acuity of the skin, while "tingling" refers to the sensation of pins and needles as if thousands of ants are crawling on the skin without any actual external stimuli. Both are caused by interference of the sensory nerves supplying the skin. Numbness and tingling occur when there is a disruption in the transmission of the electronic signals between the skin and the brain, just like statics appearing on a screen when the TV signal is being disrupted.
What are the causes of numbness and tingling?
Degeneration of spinal joints
Intervertebral disc herniation, bone spurs, etc. may cause inflammation and compression of spinal nerve roots and cause pain, numbness or tingling. For example, cervical disc herniation or bone spurs may cause numbness or tingling in the arms or fingers, and similar problems in the lumbar spine can cause numbness or tingling of the legs or toes. The areas involved will also vary according to the affected nerve roots. Commonly, compression of the nerve roots of the 6th cervical spine (C6) will affect the upper arm, forearm to the thumb of the hand, while compression of the nerve roots of the 5th lumbar spine (L5) will affect the thighs, calves, and the outside of the feet to the little toes. In addition to numbness and tingling, severe cases may also suffer from severe pain and muscle weakness.
When the peripheral nerve endings lack sufficient blood circulation (ischemia), the area covered by it will gradually become numb; and when the blood circulation gradually recovers, there will be an intense sensation of pins and needles, or tingling. Most of us have had this experience after our arms or legs have been compressed for a long time. Fortunately, these abnormal sensations often disappear within a short period of time, and all functions will return to normal. However, if one’s posture is incorrect for a long time, the muscles are excessively strained, which may lead to peripheral nerve ischemia and the frequent occurrence of numbness and tingling.
Systemic diseases or medications
Some diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or certain medications that affect the microcirculation may cause varying degrees of numbness or tingling (paresthesia). Because the symptoms of numbness and tingling may cause great distress to the patient, it must be properly diagnosed in order to find the appropriate treatment for the condition.
Chiropractic treatment of Numbness and Tingling
After detailed examination and diagnosis, if it is established that the symptoms are due to spinal nerve issues, your chiropractor may adopt the following treatment approach:
Relieve muscle tension - The use of interferential current therapy, ultrasound therapy and soft tissue massage can effectively increase blood circulation and relax stained muscles.
Restore normal joint mechanics – Depending on the findings of examination, your chiropractor may adjust (manipulate) the misaligned joints. If the nerve roots are compressed due to a herniated disc or bone spurs, spinal flexion-distraction therapy may be performed.
Improve flexibility and muscle strength - To prevent future injuries, it is important to improve the flexibility of the joints and strengthen the muscles that control them. Your chiropractor will advise you on appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises according to your physical needs and fitness level.
Lifestyle adjustments – Your chiropractor will work with you to identify lifestyle adjustments that will help you maximize the quality of your health.
What are the Recommended Treatments for Numbness and Tingling?*
- Spinal manipulation - for restoration of joint movements
- Flexion-Distraction Therapy – for decompression of nerve root
- Dry-needling - for pain relief and relaxing muscles
- Ultrasound Therapy - for reducing inflammation
- Interferential Current Therapy - for relaxing muscles and enhancing circulation
- Shockwave Therapy - to speed up tissue healing
- Exercise Therapy - to restore normal function and flexibility
Author: Dr Claudia Ng, BSc, DC
* A proper diagnosis has to be obtained for all of the above conditions before an appropriate combination of treatments will be provided. This is just a list of possible treatments for the individual condition but not all of them may be necessary, nor is it limited to those listed only.