Tingling in Hands and Feet

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on January 23, 2024
8 min read

Tingling in hands and feet is an extremely common and bothersome symptom. Paresthesia is the medical term for this, which in addition to tingling, can feel like pricks, numbness, or burning under the skin.

The tingling sensation can often be benign and temporary. For example, it might happen when there's weight or pressure on an arm under your head as you sleep. Or it could result from pressure on your nerves when you cross your legs for too long. In either case, the "pins and needles" effect, usually painless, is soon relieved by removing the pressure that caused it.

However, sometimes tingling in your hands and feet can be severe, episodic, or chronic. It can also come with other symptoms, such as pain, itching, numbness, and muscle wasting. In these cases, tingling may be a sign of nerve damage from causes as varied as traumatic or repetitive stress injuries, bacterial or viral infections, toxic exposures, or diseases such as diabetes.

This type of nerve damage is known as peripheral neuropathy because it affects nerves distant from the brain and spinal cord, often in the hands and feet. There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy. Over time, the condition can worsen, making you less mobile and even disabled. More than 20 million Americans, most of them older adults, are estimated to have peripheral neuropathy.

It's important to get medical help right away for any tingling in your hands and feet that’s lasted a while. The earlier the cause of your tingling is found and brought under control, the less likely you are to develop long-term problems.

Diabetes is one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy, accounting for about 30% of cases. In diabetic neuropathy, tingling and other symptoms often first develop in both feet, then go up the legs, and subsequently affect both hands and go up the arms. About two-thirds of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage. In many cases, these symptoms are the first signs of diabetes.

In another 30% of peripheral neuropathy cases, the cause is unknown, or "idiopathic." The remaining 40% of cases have a variety of causes that produce tingling in the upper limbs, lower limbs, or both.

Tingling in hands

The following conditions can cause numbness and tingling in fingers, hands, and arms:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when your median nerve is squeezed at the wrist, causing fingers and forearms to tingle or become numb. Fluid retention and other bodily changes during pregnancy can compress the median nerve and cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Ulnar nerve entrapment syndrome can cause tingling in fingers and affects the nerve that supplies feeling to the inside of your forearm, some of your palm, and your last two fingers.
  • Radial nerve palsy comes from stress on the nerve that runs along the bottom of your arm, such as when your arm is wedged between a hard surface and your head while you're asleep or intoxicated.

Tingling in feet

The following conditions typically cause tingling or numbness in feet, toes, and legs:

  • Peroneal nerve palsy, also called fibular neuropathy, comes from a damaged nerve that travels down your leg. It affects the outside of the leg or the top of the foot and may cause your foot to drop.
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome is the foot version of carpal tunnel syndrome. In this, the nerve that runs along the inside of your ankle is compressed.
  • Sciatica is caused by herniated disks in the lower back that can compress nerves and cause tingling in the legs.

Tingling in both hands and feet

  • Anxiety. It can trigger tingling in your hands, fingers, feet, and toes as well as on your face and around your mouth.
  • Fibromyalgia. This chronic pain disorder can cause tingling in both sets of limbs.
  • Cervical spondylosis. This typically occurs as the disks in your neck begin to wear with age and compress the nerves in your spinal column. Cervical spondylosis can cause numbness and tingling in your arms, legs, hands, and feet.
  • Systemic diseases. These include kidney disorders, liver disease, vascular damage, blood -related diseases, amyloidosis, connective tissue disorders, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances (including hypothyroidism), as well as cancers and benign tumors that impinge on nerves.
  • Vitamin deficiencies. You need vitamins E, B1, B6, B12, and niacin for healthy nerves. A B12 deficiency, for example, can lead to pernicious anemia, an important cause of peripheral neuropathy. But too much B6 can cause tingling in the hands and feet.
  • Alcoholism. People with alcoholism are more likely to lack thiamine or other important vitamins because of poor dietary habits, a common cause of peripheral neuropathy. It's also possible that alcoholism itself can cause nerve damage, a condition some researchers call alcoholic neuropathy.
  • Toxins. These include heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and thallium, and some industrial and environmental chemicals. They also include certain medications, especially chemotherapy drugs used for lung cancer, as well as some antiviral and antibiotic drugs.
  • Infections. These include Lyme disease, shingles (varicella zoster), cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex, and HIV and AIDS.
  • Autoimmune diseases. These include chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Guillain-Barre syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Inherited disorders. These include a group that may have sensory and motor symptoms; the most common type is known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
  • Injury. Often related to trauma, nerves can be compressed, crushed, or damaged in other ways, resulting in nerve pain. Examples include nerve compression caused by a dislocated bone.
  • Multiple sclerosis. The disease causes your body’s immune system to attack the fatty myelin sheath around nerve fibers in your brain and spine. Tingling in the hands and feet is a common symptom.
  • Medications. Certain medicines as well as street drugs, can cause tingling.

If you seek care for your tingling hands or feet, your health care provider will do a physical exam and take an extensive medical history addressing your symptoms, work environment, social habits (including alcohol use), toxic exposure, risk of HIV or other infectious diseases, and family history of neurological disease.

They also may perform other tests, such as:

  • Blood tests. These can include tests to detect diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, liver or kidney dysfunction, other metabolic disorders, and signs of abnormal immune system activity.
  • An examination of cerebrospinal fluid. This can identify antibodies associated with peripheral neuropathy.
  • An electromyogram (EMG), a test of your muscles' electrical activity.
  • Nerve conduction velocity (NCV).

Other tests may include:

Treatment of tingling in hands and feet depends on the underlying cause. As long as peripheral nerve cells have not been killed, they can regenerate.

Although there are no treatments for inherited types of peripheral neuropathy, many of the acquired types can be improved with treatment. For example, good blood sugar control in diabetes can help keep diabetic neuropathy from getting worse, and vitamin supplements can correct peripheral neuropathy in people with vitamin deficiencies.

In some cases, tingling and other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may be eased with prescriptions developed for treating seizures and depression.

You also may be prescribed physical therapy or undergo surgery to mend the underlying issue.

Therapies that ease symptoms

  • Physical therapy can be prescribed as well as assistive devices such as canes, walkers, braces, and wheelchairs.
  • Neurostimulation devices are placed inside the body to short-circuit pain signals before they reach the brain.
  • Scrambler messages are electrical impulses that trick the brain into believing there's no pain.
  • Plasma, intravenous immune globulin, and steroid injections can be used in the event your tingling nerves produce weakness or balance issues.

At-home treatment for tingling in hands and feet

  • Rest
  • Splints
  • Cold or heat
  • Over-the-counter, prescription or topical pain relievers
  • Specific exercises

If you have an underlying condition such as diabetes and peripheral neuropathy contributing to the tingling in your hands or feet, you should adopt lifestyle changes to safeguard your nerves.

Generally, it helps to:

If the tingling in your hands and feet starts during repetitive motion, affects your quality of life, or causes muscle weakness or a rash, have your doctor take a look. However, some cases of tingling and numbness require more urgent attention. They include:

  • Changes in speech, vision, or breathing
  • Numbness or tingling throughout an arm, leg, or area of your body, or that spreads rapidly across your body
  • Paralysis or loss of feeling in your face or chest
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Sudden onset of weakness or numbness
  • Confusion or losing consciousness
  • Symptoms in your thighs, genital area, or buttocks

There are many conditions, from mild to serious, that can cause your hands and feet to tingle. Long-term, chronic tingling may be caused by compression of a nerve due to damage, tumors, herniated disks, or expanded blood vessels. Other times, it might be a disease or chronic condition that leads to tingling in your hands and feet.

What is tingling in hands and feet a symptom of?

Tingling in hands and feet can be a symptom of multiple conditions, but the immediate sensation stems from irritation, damage, or compression of a nerve.

When should I worry about tingling in my hands?

If the tingling in your hands and feet doesn't go away after a while, you should see your doctor. The quicker you can get diagnosed and treated, the more likely you are to stop further damage to your nerves.

How do I stop my hands and feet from tingling?

First, see your doctor to find out the underlying cause of the tingling. They might prescribe over-the-counter or prescription medicines to treat your symptoms. There are various therapies you can try, including complementary therapies such as acupuncture. Certain changes to your lifestyle can help treat whatever condition leads to the tingling.