Waking throughout the night with tingling and numbness in the hands can be exhausting and frustrating, especially if it occurs on a regular basis. Since these sensations can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, determining the underlying problem is the first step to receiving appropriate treatment and eventual relief.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist through which tendons and the median nerve run. The median nerve is responsible for motor and sensory functions in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. Anything that increases pressure on this nerve causes carpal tunnel syndrome. Pain, tingling and numbness can radiate from the wrist down to the hand or upward to the arm, eventually leading to weakness in the hand, loss of grip strength and the tendency to drop objects. Carpal tunnel syndrome can result from injury that causes swelling in the wrist, fluid retention due to pregnancy or other medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism or hormonal disorders. The most prevalent cause, however, is repetitive flexion and extension of the hand, especially when done forcefully, for long periods of time.
Cervical spondylosis is a condition resulting from age-related wearing of the vertebrae in the neck, generally occurring after the age of 40. The deterioration of bone and cartilage may cause bone spurs (growths) to form on the vertebrae that can compress nerves, causing pain, stiffness and muscle spasms in the neck, shoulder, arm, or chest. Numbness, weakness and tingling may be experienced in the arms, hands, legs or feet. Additional symptoms include a lack of coordination, difficulty walking and abnormal reflexes.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
The thoracic outlet is the small area between the collar bone (clavicle) and rib cage through which blood vessels and nerves pass on their way to the arms. Compression on the nerves or blood vessels can cause numbness, pain, weakness and tingling in the middle, ring and little fingers and in the inner forearm. Pin-prick sensations may also be felt in the neck and shoulders and are often triggered by carrying heavy objects. Thoracic outlet syndrome can result from the presence of an extra cervical rib or tight chest or neck muscles. Typically, individuals suffering from this condition have a history of a shoulder injury or overuse of the shoulder.
Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder in which the nerves of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) are damaged. Symptoms are dependent on the type of nerves affected. Sensory nerve damage causes pain, tingling, numbness and burning sensations, while motor nerve damage interferes with muscle control and causes cramps and weakness. Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by disease of the nerves themselves or by other illnesses such as diabetes, alcoholism and rheumatoid arthritis. Other possible causes are nutritional deficiency, lead or mercury poisoning or the presence of tumors.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
The ulnar nerve passes through a bony passageway behind the elbow called the cubital tunnel. Hitting your "funny bone" is actually hitting your ulnar nerve. Pressure or irritation to the ulnar nerve causes tingling and numbness in the last two fingers and the palm. Numbness is generally triggered by keeping the elbow bent for long periods of time. Most often, cubital tunnel syndrome occurs as a result of injury to the elbow from fractures, dislocation or twisting, but may also result from work requiring repetitive elbow flexion.