What Is Paresthesia?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 10, 2022
3 min read

Paresthesia is that "pins and needles" feeling that you've probably had at some point. Maybe you fell asleep with your arm pinned under you. Or you kept your legs crossed too long.

It may seem weird, but paresthesia usually is painless and harmless. But sometimes it can be a sign of a more serious medical problem.

You'll usually feel paresthesia in your hands, arms, legs, or feet. But it can happen in other areas of the body as well.

People with paresthesia could feel:

Paresthesia happens because of pressure on a nerve. When that pressure is gone -- you uncross your legs, for example -- the feeling goes away.

But in some cases, it doesn't go away. Or if it does, it comes back regularly. That's called chronic paresthesia, and it can be a sign of a medical condition or nerve damage. Several things can cause chronic paresthesia, including:

  • An injury or accident that caused nerve damage
  • A stroke or mini-stroke -- when blood flow to your brain is cut off and causes damage
  • Radiculopathy -- a compressed nerve root
  • Neuropathy -- nerve damage
  • A pinched nerve (often in your neck, shoulder, or arm) from injury or overuse
  • Sciatica -- pressure on the sciatic nerve (which goes from your lower pelvis to your buttocks and legs), a common problem during pregnancy that typically causes numbness and pain in your back or legs

Several things can raise your chances of paresthesia, including:

Certain medications can also cause paresthesia in some people. These can include:

If you think a medicine you take might cause your paresthesia, talk with your doctor. They may be able to change your treatment or your dose.

In many cases, paresthesia goes away on its own. But if any area of your body regularly goes numb or gets that "pins and needles" feeling, talk to your doctor. They'll ask about your medical history and do a physical exam.

They also may recommend certain tests to figure out what's causing your paresthesia. These might include an X-ray, blood test, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed images of certain areas of your body.

What treatment you'll need for your paresthesia will depend on what's causing it. Treating the cause will usually make paresthesia go away or make it happen less often. Talk with your doctor about which treatments can help you.