Pins And Needles: Why It Happens And When It Might Be A Sign Of Something Serious

11/03/2016 9:54 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Above view of woman' || chr(39) || 's bare legs holding pillow between knees lying on bed with white sheets.

We've all been there. You wake in the middle of the night in a panic, thinking your arm has fallen off. A quick search (with the other arm) reveals that the limb is still there, but all sensation is gone and it feels as though it will never return. Your partner wakes to find you flailing a flaccid limb in the air, frantically trying to bring it back to life.

"Pins and needles, or paresthesia, is often temporary," Dr Fitzgibbon, National Health and Medical Research Council Research Fellow at Monash University told The Huffington Post Australia.

"It is the feeling of prickling or tingling that is common when you have been in the same position too long, or slept on a limb. In these transient causes of pins and needles, it is the result of too much pressure on a nerve."

Having a limb 'fall asleep' sure does feel foreign, but can it put you at permanent risk? Dr Fitzgibbon said not to worry too much.

"Given that putting pressure on a nerve reduces blood flow, it is possible that extended time sleeping on a limb could cause permanent damage."

"However, these would have to be quite extreme cases that most likely involve other factors such as drugs and alcohol and a complete absence of any movement at all. Otherwise, your body would be sending signals for you to move, such as nerve pain, and you would be unlikely to sleep through that!"

pins and needles

The best way to have the feeling subside is to change positions. Also, be careful when trying to walk if you have no sensation in your leg or foot as you could roll an ankle.

"The best and fastest way [to cause the feeling to subside] would be to get moving! However, if there is an underlying medical condition, then management may be different," Dr Fitzgibbon said.

Speaking of medical conditions, the sensation of pins or needles, in rare cases, can linked to a more serious disease.

"Paresthesia can also be chronic, indicating a relationship to disease related to the nervous system, such as stroke or multiple sclerosis, or nerve damage or irritation from rheumatoid arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome," Dr Fitzgibbon said.

"In these chronic cases, the cause of the paresthesia differ from neuronal activity, poor circulation of the limbs, tissue inflammation, nerve damage and even a side effect of some medications."

If your pins and needles sensation is persistent or chronic, of course see your doctor as soon as possible.

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