Paresthesia is a feeling of numbness, burning, or tingling, usually in the extremities, such as the hands and feet. It may also involve a sensation of crawling or itching on the skin. It is usually temporary but can be chronic.

Paresthesia often stems from nerve damage, for instance, with diabetes.

It is the same feeling of “pins and needles” that occurs when someone sits on their leg or foot for too long. Usually, it is a temporary sensation that occurs due to pressure on the nerve that supplies a limb. Once a person relieves that pressure, the discomfort goes away.

Some people have chronic or long-term paresthesia, which can indicate a more serious nerve injury or condition.

Fast facts on paresthesia

Here are some key points about paresthesia. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Causes can include stroke, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis.
  • If due to a pinched nerve, the symptoms can be intermittent or constant and may be reversible.
  • Treatment options depend on the cause of the paresthesia.
  • Anyone with ongoing paresthesia needs to speak with a doctor, especially if the symptoms are new, constant, or not attributed to anything else.
Was this helpful?
person sitting downShare on Pinterest
ZenShui/Alix Minde/Getty Images

Paresthesia is a feeling in the body involving numbness, prickling, and tingling. There are many different causes of chronic paresthesia, including:

A pinched nerve occurs when the surrounding tissue puts too much pressure on it. This pressure causes paresthesia in the area that the nerve supplies and interrupts its function. A pinched nerve can occur anywhere in the body, such as the face, the neck, the wrist, or the back.

A herniated disk in the lower spine can cause pain in the back, leg, or foot on the affected side.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a pinched nerve in the wrist that causes numbness and tingling in the fingers.

The symptoms of paresthesia or a pinched nerve include:

  • tingling or pins and needles
  • aching or burning pain
  • numbness or reduced feeling in the affected area
  • feeling that the affected area has “fallen asleep”
  • prickling or itching feeling
  • hot or cold skin
  • crawling or itching feeling on the skin

The symptoms can be constant or come and go. Usually, these sensations occur in the affected area but may spread or radiate outward.

Some factors that increase the risk of having a pinched nerve include the following:

  • Gender: Females are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome, possibly due to a narrower nerve canal.
  • Obesity: Having obesity may put pressure on nerves.
  • Pregnancy: Weight and water gain relating to pregnancy can cause swelling and nerve pressure.
  • Thyroid disease: This may put a person at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Diabetes: Having diabetes can cause nerve and tissue damage.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This causes inflammation, which can also compress nerves in the joints.
  • Prolonged bed rest: Lying down for extended periods can cause nerve compression and increase the risk of paresthesia.
  • Overuse: People who have jobs or hobbies that require repetitive motion of the hands, elbows, or feet are at a higher risk for a pinched nerve, paresthesia, or nerve damage.

Anyone can get a pinched nerve, and most people will have experienced paresthesia at some point.

A doctor will first take a medical history and ask questions about a person’s symptoms to diagnose paresthesis.

Next, the doctor will likely perform a physical examination and, depending on the findings, may recommend tests, including the following.

  • Nerve conduction study: This measures how fast nerve impulses travel in the muscles.
  • Electromyography (EMG): This test examines the electrical activity of how nerves and muscles interact.
  • MRI: This looks at the different areas of the body in great detail.
  • Ultrasound: This produces images of the body, particularly in smaller areas, to look for nerve compression or damage, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

The type of test that the doctor prescribes will depend on the results of these tests, plus a person’s symptoms and medical history.

The treatment options for paresthesia depend on the cause. If an underlying medical condition causes symptoms, paresthesia also needs treatment.

Rest and bracing

Doctors commonly recommend rest for a pinched nerve.

To allow the tissues to heal, it is important to stop the activities causing the nerve compression. This may mean resting or, sometimes, wearing a brace or splint to stop the movement of the area.

For example, a wrist brace can immobilize the wrists of a person with carpal tunnel syndrome.

However, using a brace for extended periods can cause other problems. Therefore, a person always needs to follow the recommendations of a healthcare professional.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy helps build strength in the muscles surrounding the affected nerve. Stronger muscles can help relieve tissue compression and prevent it from reoccurring. Fit muscles can also improve flexibility, range of motion, and mobility.


Some medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and even steroid injections into the affected area can relieve pain and decrease swelling and inflammation.

For long-term paresthesias due to fibromyalgia, medications, including pregabalin (Lyrica) or duloxetine (Cymbalta), may be useful.


If these treatments do not relieve symptoms, surgery may be necessary to reduce the pressure on a pinched nerve.

Surgery can involve releasing the carpal ligament, removing a bone spur, or even part of a herniated disk in the back.

The type of surgery will depend on the specific symptoms a person is experiencing and their cause.

While not every pinched nerve is preventable, there are things a person can do to help minimize the risk of one occurring.

Maintaining good posture and body positioning is vital to avoid unnecessary nerve pressure.

It is also critical to avoid injuries that can occur from heavy and incorrect lifting. If a person is mindful of their body position and changes positions frequently, they can help avoid nerve compression, which may lead to paresthesis.

Also, limiting repetitive movements, or at least taking frequent breaks while doing those activities, can prevent paresthesia due to overuse.

As always, maintaining a moderate weight and participating in regular exercise, including strength and flexibility exercises, are suitable strategies for building strong and healthy muscles.

The outlook for someone with paresthesia varies and depends on what is causing the symptoms. A pinched nerve that only lasts for a short time usually causes no permanent damage.

However, if the pinched nerve continues, it can lead to permanent damage, chronic pain, and loss of function and sensation.

In some cases where medical treatment and therapy have not helped, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.

Here are some frequently asked questions about paresthesia.

What causes paresthesia?

Paresthesia may result from different causes, including a pinched nerve, stroke, or conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

How do you confirm paresthesia?

A healthcare professional can diagnose nerve damage or compression using a nerve conduction study, an MRI, or an EMG.

What is paresthesia vs. neuropathy?

Neuropathy is a term that describes a condition that affects nerves, while paresthesia is a symptom of neuropathy.

What is the best treatment for paresthesia?

Treatment for paresthesia depends on the cause but may involve medications, rest, and surgery.

Paresthesia is a feeling of numbness, tingling, or prickling in the skin. It may be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as multiple sclerosis, or may result from something as simple as a pinched nerve.

Depending on the cause, a healthcare professional can treat paresthesia with rest, surgery, or medications.