If you’ve fallen asleep one too many times with your arm pinned underneath you at an awkward angle, you know how annoying tingling in hands and feet can be.
This ‘pins and needles’ feeling is all too common, but not every bout of tingling in legs is entirely harmless.
In fact, this familiar burning, tingling, even numbing feeling is called paresthesia.
It’s a medical condition that’s often a sign that something more serious is going on. If you have questions about what leg paresthesia means for your health, it’s essential to read this article so that you have a solid understanding of the condition and a better idea of whether you need to be concerned about.
How to Define Paresthesia
Paresthesia is a medical term that refers to prickling or burning sensations in the hands, arms or legs, usually because a nerve is compromised in some way. This feeling often comes on completely without warning, and though it is almost painless, some people consider the numbness and tingling to be highly unpleasant.
Most people experience temporary paresthesia in some form during their lives, usually when pressure is put on a particular body part for too long, like a leg while sitting down. In these cases, the feeling goes away quickly after the pain is relieved.
In contrast, chronic paresthesia happens more frequently or takes longer to dissipate each time. It is a condition that is usually a symptom of an underlying neurological condition or permanent nerve damage from an illness or accident. Strokes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions can all increase your odds of developing chronic paresthesia.
Symptoms of Paresthesia
Though paresthesia can affect any part of your body, it is most commonly defined as tingling in:
Chronic paresthesia often comes with stabbing pain and a loss of motor control over the limb. This can lead to clumsiness and make it harder to walk. Other common symptoms of chronic cases include itching, muscular atrophy, restless leg syndrome, and uncontrollable ‘crawling sensations’ in the leg.
Since chronic paresthesia is so often a symptom of a more significant medical problem, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as you start noticing the signs to ensure that the primary issue can be addressed efficiently.
What Causes Chronic Nerve Damage?
Chronic paresthesia can be traced back to two primary forms of nerve damage: radiculopathy and neuropathy.
Radiculopathy is a neural condition caused by the roots of your nerves getting compressed, inflamed, or otherwise irritated. It can be caused by herniated discs in your back, a narrowing of the canal that allows fluid to travel through your spinal fluid, and any other condition where your spinal cord is compressed as it leaves your spinal column.
Unlike radiculopathy, neuropathy is caused by chronic nerve damage. One of the most significant triggers for the condition is high blood sugar, often in the case of diabetes. There are many other causes of this permanent nerve damage, including physical trauma, injuries from overly repetitive movements, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney and liver diseases, among others. If neuropathy isn’t adequately addressed and the cause isn’t stopped, it can lead to permanent numbness or even paralysis.
Treatment for Paresthesia
If your doctor diagnoses you with chronic paresthesia, there are many potential treatment options that you can pursue to improve your health and alleviate the symptoms. The treatment that makes the most sense for you will depend on what caused your paresthesia in the first place.
For instance, diabetes-linked numbness is best treated by keeping your blood sugar low through a better diet and more exercise, while paresthesia caused by a pinched nerve might be better soothed with a regular yoga routine.
The cause of your paresthesia and how soon you seek treatment will determine what your long-term prognosis is for the condition. Some types of nerve damage are unfortunately irreversible, but you improve your chances of mitigating the damage by seeking professional help as soon as you notice the symptoms.
If your paresthesia doesn’t have a clear cause, your doctor might recommend taking regular anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the pain. This makes it easier for blood vessels and neural networks to function as they should. Many alternative treatments are also proven to be effective, including taking daily supplements, acupuncture, and massage therapy.
Don’t worry if specific procedures don’t seem to work for you. Keep experimenting until you find one that fits your life and leaves you as pain-free as possible.
Tingling in feet, hands, and legs is rarely fun, but taking control of the issue early makes all the difference in how you feel in the long-term. Call your doctor today if you think you are developing paresthesia. You won’t regret taking preventive measures for the benefit of your health.