Numbness is a loss of sensation or feeling in a part of the body. It can also be accompanied by or described as tingling, burning or a pins-and-needles feeling, and can occur on one side or both sides of the body.

Usually, the affected nerves are located on the periphery or outer edges of the body.

These symptoms can have a variety of causes—most often damage, irritation or compression of nerves or a single branch of a nerve as with a slipped disc in the back or carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, which can damage the longest, most sensitive nerve fibers, can also cause numbness.

Seek emergency help or call 911 if numbness begins suddenly, occurs after a recent head injury or involves an entire arm or leg. Other accompanying symptoms that warrant immediate medical care are weakness or paralysis, confusion, dizziness, difficulty talking, and a sudden, severe headache.

Other symptoms that are serious and should prompt the scheduling of an appointment with a neurologist include: gradual worsening of the numbness or if it comes and goes, if it seems to be related to certain tasks, activities or repetitive motions, and if it symmetrically affects both sides of the body.


To properly determine the cause, physicians need detailed information about the symptoms as well as one or several tests before appropriate treatment can begin.

Because so many disorders can cause numbness, the physicians at Semmes Murphey often perform a sequential evaluation.

The first step is to locate the area of numbness and identify the part of the nervous system that may be involved.

Then, other clinical characteristics—rate of onset, associated neurologic symptoms and signs, and symmetry—further narrow the path to diagnosis and guide the physician to other questions or tests that will lead him or her to the specific cause.

This information was provided by the specialists at Semmes Murphey Clinic. Readers are encouraged to research trustworthy organizations for information. Please talk with your physician for websites and sources that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of this issue and its treatments.

If you experience any of the symptoms described above for a substantial length of time, it’s time to see one of the neurologists at Semmes Murphey Clinic.

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