Hand/Arm Tingling & Numbness


When talking to your doctor or therapist about your symptoms that include numbness and/or tingling, assess some things ahead of time. The more specific information you are able to give your therapist, the better chance of receiving a more definite diagnosis. A common thing that I hear from patients is that the whole hand falls asleep. If you use your other hand to test each finger when the numbness occurs, often you will realize that is not quite true.

There are several nerves that serve the arms and hands and a variety of areas where a nerve can be compressed. The information you give can help indicate which area the doctor or therapist should suspect.

Most people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a common issue. Carpal refers to wrist and the nerve involved is sitting right on top of several other structures that travel through a small opening at the wrist going into the hand. That is the Median Nerve and it provides the sensation mostly on the front of the palm and fingers of the thumb, index, middle and only half of the ring finger.

Another common issue is with the Ulnar Nerve either at the wrist or, more commonly at the back of the elbow. If you have ever hit your “funny bone” you know the distribution of that nerve! That is front and back to the little finger side of the hand, the little finger and the other half of the ring finger.

The rest of the hand on the back is a third nerve, the Radial Nerve.

Sometimes people actually do have the numbness to the whole hand or even to the whole arm, and that tells your provider to also look at other structures. It is good to catch the problem early when the symptoms are more likely to respond to therapy and exercises.

Deborah Erickson, PT, CHT