Why You Get Pins and Needles in Your Hands and Feet—and How to Get Rid of It

There could be several reasons for the pesky pins-and-needles feeling you get. 

Just about everyone is familiar with the feeling of "pins and needles." But in the medical community, this common phenomenon is known by a much fancier name: paresthesia. "The phrase 'pins and needles' is frequently used to describe the feeling that someone is pricking your skin with thousands of tiny pointed objects," says Jerry Yoo, a physical therapist and founder and CEO of Next Level Physio. "Typically, these tingling sensations—also known as paresthesias—mean that somewhere in your body, a nerve or blood vessel is irritated and needs attention."

But why does pins and needles happen, and what can we do to make it go away? Is it a sign of something more serious—or just an unpleasant inconvenience? We talked to a few health experts to find out.

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What Does Pins and Needles Feel Like?

If you're experiencing pins and needles, you may feel one of your body parts start to tingle, itch, or even go numb. "When you're just sitting there, your nerves are not completely quiet. They send off signals to the brain letting it know that everything is going on as usual," explains Loren Fishman, MD, and the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. But when a nerve is pinched, it stops sending these signals. "The brain does something very [much] like hallucinating," he says. "It registers, inaccurately, that there is something going on, [which feels like] pins and needles, tightness, or sometimes a feeling of crawling."

Most of the time, you'll feel pins and needles in your hands, arms, feet, or legs. But technically, you can feel them anywhere. "We feel paraesthesias in the hands and feet because they're further from the spine than anywhere else, and therefore there's a greater length of nerve that can get pinched," Dr. Fishman says. "[But] yes, you can feel them anywhere."

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Different Types of Pins and Needles—and What Causes Them

There are two kinds of paresthesia: episodic paresthesia and chronic paresthesia.

Common Causes of Episodic Paresthesia

Episodic paresthesia happens when you put pressure on a nerve for a little too long. If you've ever felt your leg go numb after crossing your legs for a while, you've probably experienced episodic paresthesia.

"Most people have felt the feeling of pins and needles before—specifically when they fall asleep on top of their hands or arms for a prolonged time, or sit with their legs crossed for too long," says Chanha Hwang, a Nevada-based physical therapist. "Once the pressure is relieved, the pins and needles goes away within minutes."

Episodic pins and needles can happen as a result of an acute stressor, such as:

  • Sitting or standing the same way for too long
  • Restricting blood flow to your hands or feet (by sitting or lying on them)
  • Crossing your legs for a long time

Common Causes of Chronic Paresthesia

When there's not an obvious stressor, the pins and needles may be caused by an underlying health condition. This is called chronic paresthesia. Like the episodic kind, chronic paresthesia is also the result of sustained nerve pressure, but it's often caused by an underlying health condition (which is why it's considered chronic, rather than episodic). You may be experiencing chronic paresthesia if you can't pinpoint the source of your pins and needles—or if yours is frequent and/or long-lasting. It's associated with certain health conditions like:

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Simple Tricks to Get Rid of Pins and Needles

If you're experiencing episodic paresthesia, try:

  • Removing pressure from the tingling area
  • Changing positions
  • Wiggling your toes (if the pins and needles is in your feet or legs)
  • Clenching and unclenching your fists (if the pins and needles is in your hands or arms)
  • Shaking the body part that's tingling
  • Removing any restrictive clothing

If you're experiencing chronic paresthesia, consider seeing a doctor. Since the paresthesia may be linked to an underlying health condition, home remedies (like moving around) may not help.

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Signs It's Time to See a Doctor

If you're frequently experiencing paresthesia, if your paresthesia lasts for a while, or if you can't pinpoint the cause of your paresthesia, consider asking your doctor for their expert opinion. And don't put off making that appointment. "Due to the sensitivity of the nerves and/or blood vessels involved, it is imperative that you don't delay, since it may lead to permanent damage," Yoo says.

Your doctor will start by helping you understand what's causing your paresthesia(s). "Your doctor will review your medical history, as paresthesia can be caused by existing conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism," Hwang says. Then they might ask you about your symptoms—how long have you had them, what seems to trigger them, and whether anything make them better or worse. After that, your doctor may run a few tests—like blood tests, an X-ray, and/or MRI.

"In general, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional when new symptoms of any kind arise," Dr. Yoo says. So be sure to reach out to your primary care provider if you notice unusual, frequent, or long-lasting pins and needles—or pins and needles that doesn't seem to have an acute cause.

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  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Paresthesia. Accessed November 4, 2022.

  2. Staff NP, Windebank AJ. Peripheral neuropathy due to vitamin deficiency, toxins, and medications. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2014;20(5 Peripheral Nervous System Disorders):1293-306. doi:10.1212/01.CON.0000455880.06675.5a

  3. Grisold W, Carozzi VA. Toxicity in peripheral nerves: an overview. Toxics. 2021;9(9):218. doi:10.3390/toxics9090218

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