Pins and Needles
What’s happening? When a nerve (or nerves) is being irritated for any number of reasons, and the signal that it typically sends to the brain is being scrambled, you get a numb and tingly feeling—as when your foot “falls asleep” after you’ve been sitting for a long time. “The doctor word for it is ‘paresthesia,’ ” says Cain, “and it means you’re sensing something that is not a traditional neurological response and doesn’t make sense to the brain.”
Why is your body doing it? Cain compares nerve communication to an electrical signal sent from one body part to your brain. Say you lean on your elbow: Those nerves are being compressed and cannot send a signal along the normal pathway. “The nerves can’t fire appropriately,” explains Sandra Fryhofer, M.D., a physician in Atlanta and past president of the American College of Physicians. “They can’t send the whole signal or the signal they send isn’t the proper one, and the body recognizes that as something being wrong.”
What should you do? There are plenty of benign reasons you feel pins and needles, such as crossing your legs for too long, or whacking your funny bone on the counter. They will generally resolve quickly—within minutes, most likely. Others, such as fluid buildup during pregnancy that can cause carpal tunnel syndrome (in which the radial nerve that passes through your wrist to your hand gets compressed) can be more troublesome and painful, but will usually go away on their own in time—say, after you’ve delivered the baby and your body has gone back to normal. But there are some conditions—such as diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiency, or when a bone is pressing on a nerve—that can cause long-term damage if they are not addressed, says Fryhofer. If you experience pins and needles more than just occasionally and aside from any benign causality or they are accompanied by muscle weakness, talk to your doctor to see whether he or she should be investigating a more serious problem.