Numbness and tingling can affect the arm for various reasons, ranging from sitting or sleeping in the wrong position to heart disease. Treatment for persistent numbness and tingling will depend on the cause.
However, unexplained arm numbness may indicate an underlying health condition, such as nerve damage, a herniated disc, or cardiovascular disease. Severe causes of arm numbness include heart attacks and stroke.
This article reviews nine possible causes of arm numbness and their treatments.
Blocked or compressed blood vessels can interfere with blood circulation to and from the heart. Poor circulation can cause numbness and tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.
Reduced blood flow can cause other symptoms, such as:
- cold hands and feet
- extremely pale or blue-tinted skin
- swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- joint or muscle pain
Poor circulation is not a medical condition in itself, but it can happen if a person does not move enough during the day. It can also be a symptom of other conditions,
- Atherosclerosis: This condition occurs when cholesterol deposits, called plaque, accumulate in the blood vessels. Plaque buildups can cause the arteries to harden and narrow, restricting blood flow.
- Blood clots: These form when coagulated blood clumps together inside a blood vessel. Blood clots can create partial or complete blockages inside a blood vessel.
- Peripheral artery disease: This is a type of atherosclerosis in which plaque accumulates in the arteries in the arms and legs.
- Diabetes: This can affect the circulatory system as high levels of blood sugar lead to plaque formation and blood vessel damage.
Treatment for poor circulation depends on the underlying cause. Wearing compression wraps can help reduce swelling in the limbs. Exercising can also help improve circulation.
People who have large blood clots or several blocked arteries may require surgery. Doctors can prescribe medications to treat underlying health conditions that may contribute to poor circulation.
Peripheral neuropathy includes multiple conditions that damage the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS carries information between the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — and the rest of the body.
Peripheral neuropathy causes a range of symptoms, depending on which nerves it affects. In general, people who have peripheral neuropathy
- numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet
- heightened sensitivity to touch and temperature changes
- muscle weakness
- uncontrollable muscle twitching
- muscle wasting, or loss of muscle
- excessive sweating
- feeling hot or cold
Several conditions can contribute to peripheral neuropathy, including:
People who have TOS may experience numbness or tingling in a hand, as well as weakness in the neck or arm.
Physical therapy exercises that strengthen the chest and back muscles can help improve a person’s posture and reduce pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that pass through the thoracic outlet.
Doctors can prescribe medication to prevent blood clots and reduce pain. They may also recommend surgery if a person’s symptoms do not improve with physical therapy or medication.
Cervical spinal stenosis occurs when the hollow space of the spinal canal narrows, compressing the spinal cord. This compression can cause numbness or weakness in the arms or feet. It can also cause neck and back pain.
People can develop this condition if they have cervical spondylosis, which is arthritis that affects the part of the spine in the neck. Neck or back injuries and tumors in the spine can also contribute to cervical spinal stenosis.
Doctors treat this condition with medication, back braces, physical therapy, and surgery.
A herniated disk occurs when the soft nucleus of the disk slips through a crack in its outer portion.
A herniated disk can press against surrounding nerves, which may cause numbness or pain in the arm.
Treatment options for herniated disks include pain medication, physical therapy, and surgery.
People who have hemiplegic migraine experience a migraine headache along with temporary weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. This symptom can appear before or alongside a headache. People may feel numbness or tingling in the leg, arm, or side of the face.
Migraine also causes intense, throbbing headaches that can affect one or both sides of the head.
The symptoms of hemiplegic migraine vary from mild to severe. A severe hemiplegic migraine episode can cause additional symptoms, such as:
- memory loss
- personality changes
Doctors may prescribe pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat migraine.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), doctors have not established standard treatment protocols for hemiplegic migraine due to being rare.
A heart attack occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. A blood clot or plaque buildup can create a partial or complete blockage in one or more of the blood vessels that supply the heart, causing a heart attack.
In rare cases, a heart attack can also happen when the coronary artery spasms, which tightens the vessel and restricts blood flow to the heart. The heart muscle may become damaged or stop functioning altogether if it does not receive enough oxygen.
According to the
- pain or discomfort in one or both arms
- intense pressure in the chest
- pain in the upper stomach, which may feel like indigestion or heartburn
- shortness of breath
Other symptoms to look for include:
- pain or numbness in the back, shoulders, neck, or jaw
- feeling lightheaded or faint
- nausea and vomiting
A heart attack is a serious medical emergency. People should call 911 immediately if they think that they or someone else is having a heart attack.
Doctors will attempt to open the blocked artery and restore blood flow to the heart. The exact type of treatment will depend on the location of the blockage, the person’s overall health status, and the amount of time that has elapsed since the heart attack began.
A stroke occurs when something restricts or completely blocks blood flow to part of the brain.
Strokes often cause numbness in one arm, leg, or side of the face. Other symptoms of a stroke
- a sudden, severe headache
- vision changes
- difficulty speaking
- loss of coordination
There are two main types of stroke:
- Ischemic strokes occur when blood clots or fatty deposits develop inside a blood vessel and restrict blood flow to the brain.
- Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the surrounding tissue.
A stroke is a serious condition that requires emergency medical treatment. People should call 911 for rapid emergency services.
A doctor can treat an ischemic stroke with thrombolytic medications that dissolve blood clots. If a person has a hemorrhagic stroke, a doctor may need to stop the bleeding or reduce pressure in the brain with surgical intervention, depending on the cause, location, and size of the bleed in the brain.
In cases of both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, it is important that a person and their doctor take care to manage their
Dehydration can cause a variety of symptoms based on how severe the case is. Though it is not likely to lead to arm numbness directly, moderate to advanced cases of dehydration
A drop in blood pressure may cause numbness in the arms.
Arm numbness is a common symptom of many minor issues, such as temporarily cutting off the circulation, but it
People who have a high risk or history of cardiovascular disease should seek immediate medical attention if they experience unexplained numbness or tingling in their arm.
Persistent numbness in the arm without an apparent cause suggests an underlying medical problem that may require physical therapy, surgery, or emergency medical care.
Is it a heart attack?
Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:
- chest pain, pressure, or tightness
- pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
- nausea and vomiting
- sweaty or clammy skin
- heartburn or indigestion
- shortness of breath
- coughing or wheezing
- lightheadedness or dizziness
- anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
If someone has these symptoms:
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:
- Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
- Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
- Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
- Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
- If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.
Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:
- An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
- Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
Here are some questions people often ask about arm numbness.
What is the most common cause of arm numbness?
Possible causes of arm numbness include a herniated disk, poor circulation, nerve damage, and dehydration. However, a heart attack or stroke can also involve arm numbness.
Does a numb arm mean a stroke?
Often, arm numbness is due to a minor cause, but it can also indicate a more serious condition, such as a stroke. Anyone who experiences sudden or unexplained arm numbness may consider seeking medical advice.
Why is my left arm numb and tingling?
Various conditions with different severity levels can cause numbness in one arm, such as poor circulation, herniated disc, heart attack, or stroke.
People should consider their other symptoms and speak with a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
How do I get rid of numbness in my arm?
Treatments for arm numbness will depend on the cause. A doctor can recommend a treatment plan if arm numbness stems from cervical spinal stenosis, migraine, or other conditions.
Ways to soothe arm numbness include physical therapy, exercise, and wearing a pressure wrap.
Many people experience occasional numbness in an arm. Arm numbness can occur for several reasons that range from mild causes, such as sleeping in the wrong position, to a severe medical condition, such as a heart attack.
Sudden numbness in one or both arms may be a sign of a heart attack, stroke, or nerve damage, especially if a person has other symptoms.
People who experience arm numbness and weakness on one side of the body that precedes a severe headache may have a rare type of migraine called hemiplegic migraine.
Anyone who has arm numbness without an obvious cause should contact their doctor, especially if they have a history or increased risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.