Pins and Needles in Arm

A tingling or prickling sensation felt in one or more areas of the body is often referred to as ‘pins and needles’; its medical or scientific term is ‘paresthesia’ which just means loss of sensation. Limbs are a common place to experience these tingly or prickly sensations and as such individuals often report pins and needle type feelings in the arm (known as arm paresthesia or upper extremity paresthesia). Pins and needles may occur in the right arm, left arm or occasionally in both arms.

Pins and needles felt in the arm is usually temporary and rarely causes pain, however if the sensation remains for a longer period of time it can be indicative of a bigger problem and the sufferer should refer to their doctor or nurse for further advice and assessment.
 

Symptoms of pins and needles in the arm

  • A tingling or prickling feeling in one or both arms
  • A burning or itching sensation felt on and/or beneath the skin’s surface
  • A more unusual sensation which is commonly described as ‘skin crawling’ or feeling like something is moving under the skin
  • Numbness of the affected arm (often reported as the arm falling asleep or going to sleep)
  • A shooting pain down the arm or leg
  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness caused by damage to motor or sensory neurons (nerves that carry messages to and from the brain)


Causes of pins and needles in the arm

  • Placing pressure on the nerves (for example by kneeling for extended periods of time)
  • Diabetes mellitus, high or low blood sugar
  • Malnutrition or poor diet
  • Vitamin deficiencies (particularly B12 deficiencies)
  • Thyroid problems (particularly hypothyroidism and hypoparathyroidism)
  • Previous injury to the arm or arms which has resulted in nerve damage
  • A nerve condition called peripheral neuropathy
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Side effects of medication (e.g. anticonvulsant drugs)
  • Celiac disease

More serious causes of paresthesia include:

  • Severe or chronic nerve-related problems including some immunodeficiencies, Guillain–Barré syndrome and multiple sclerosis
  • Tumours or malignancies
  • Heavy metal poisoning
  • Very rarely arm parasthesia can be a sign of stroke (in this instance the pins and needles sensation is commonly associated with

Whilst the list of potential causes of pins and needles is extensive, the majority of cases are not serious and are and nothing to be worried about.

The most common cause of pins and needles in the arm:

The most common cause of pins and needles in the arm is the entrapment or compression of nerves caused as a result of sleeping, resting or leaning on the arm whilst it is in a bent position. Most people have felt pins and needles in their arm at some point in their lives.

In the older population a very common cause is poor limb circulation which may arise as a result of peripheral vascular disease (PVD). Peripherphal vascular disease causes inadequate nutrient and blood supply to the nerves in the arm, preventing proper nerve signal transduction to the brain.

What you can do to prevent pins and needles

There are a few steps a person can take to minimise the sensation of pins and needles if it is bothering them. The actual treatment is very much dependant on the cause, which needs to be identified first. If the cause in not a serious one, it can be usually rectified by following a few simple instructions:

  1. The key is avoidance – try not to stand, kneel or lie in one position for a long period of time.
  2. Lie on your back in bed. This will prevent you from accidentally compressing your arm whilst you sleep.
  3. When you experience the sensation, usually the solution is as simple as moving the arm or arms in a brisk, energetic motion. Doing so should aid blood flow and get rid of the unpleasant feeling.
  4. Creams that are applied to the skin (topical creams) may be offered by the doctor or nurse, including hydrocortisone and anaesthetic creams. Using these can help reduce the occurrence of pins and needles or numb the skin on the arms to reduce discomfort.
  5. If, despite all these measures, the feelings continue, it is a good idea to make an appointment with the doctor or nurse to eliminate the possibility of a more serious cause. In order to aid accurate diagnosis the person will need to describe to their health care provider where exactly the pins and needles are felt in the arm. The individual should tell their doctor whether the sensations they are experiencing are felt in the right arm, the left arm, or in both arms, and additionally if they are felt anywhere else in the body. The location of the pins and needles will help the doctor to determine the cause. For example, multiple sclerosis will commonly cause symptoms throughout the body; whereas paresthesia related to diabetes will usually be felt in the arms and legs.

Summary

Overall it is important to remember that pins and needles felt either in one arm or both arms is unlikely to be caused by a serious medical problem; however it can in some cases be a warning sign of other underlying medical conditions. Thus, if arm paresthesia becomes a frequent occurrence, lasting more than a few minutes or is accompanied by loss of function, confusion or slurred speech, the individual should seek medical advice immediately. If you do make an appointment to see a medical practitioner regarding pins and needles in the arm you will be asked questions on the exact location of the sensation, the type and durations of the pins and needles and when the feeling first started. Fortunately there are steps an individual can take to prevent any unpleasant sensations once a more serious cause has been ruled out. These include keeping active and moving the arm frequently to improve circulation and applying numbing creams to reduce skin discomfort.