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Numbness and Weakness

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What Is Numbness or Weakness?

Numbness or weakness can occur in many areas of our bodies at any time.

From sleeping the wrong way to sitting for an extended period, most of us have experienced some sort of numbness or weakness at one time.

While the condition may only last a short while, there may be underlying health issues that make the problem more severe.

Causes of numbness and weakness

Numbness and weakness in the hands, fingers, and wrists

Often, when we have numbness or weakness in the finger, hand, or wrist, it may be due to daily or repetitive tasks that strain or immobilize this particular area.

For example:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position
  • Using a computer or mobile device
  • Painting

However, performing these tasks on a regular basis can lead to long-term issues, including:

Numbness and weakness in the shoulder

Every time our arms move, our shoulder joints move.

At some point, most of us feel numbness or weakness in the shoulder, whether from:

  • Daily activities
  • Injury
  • Aging
  • Simple wear-and-tear

Common causes of shoulder numbness and weakness can include:

Numbness and weakness in the leg or knee

Most of us have had our leg “fall asleep,” where we experience numbness or weakness to the point of being unable to stand or walk.

While we typically regain normal function within minutes, there are conditions that cause numbness or weakness in the leg or knee for extended periods.

Some of the more common health issues that affect the legs and knees include:

Numbness and weakness in the feet or toes

While our choice of footwear is one of the more common reasons for numbness or weakness of the feet and toes, there are also medical conditions that can cause problems.

The most common health problems that can cause numbness or weakness in the feet and toes include:

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Numbness and Weakness Symptoms and Diagnosis

Since the causes of numbness or weakness vary widely, your doctor will want to complete a thorough medical history.

To help your doctor diagnose your numbness and weakness, consider the following before your appointment:

  • Specific details of when and how the injury occurred
  • Path of the pain or sensation as it radiates down your arm, leg, or back
  • Your body position when pain occurs
  • Sensations you feel — burning, tingling, sharp or dull pain
  • Frequency of pain or sensation — off and on, constant, during sleep
  • What helps the pain or sensation, or what makes it worse?

Providing your doctor with these details will greatly assist in creating a sound treatment plan for numbness and weakness.

Numbness and weakness diagnostic tests

After completing your medical history and physical exam, your doctor may order tests to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.

Tests to diagnose numbness and weakness may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computerized tomography (CT) myelography
  • X-rays
  • Nerve conduction studies, such as electromyography (EMG) 

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Treatment for Numbness or Weakness

Depending on the specific diagnosis and severity of the injury, your doctor at UPMC Orthopaedic Care may suggest a variety of treatments.

Treating toe numbness

Treatments for numbness in the toe depends on the cause but may include:

  • Medicine
  • Vitamins
  • Wearing thick, soft socks and a type of shoe that lets your toes move
  • Rest

Treating leg and foot numbness

Leg and foot numbness treatments may include:

  • Corticosteroids or other drugs
  • Ice or heat
  • Exercise to pump blood to the legs and feet
  • Braces or custom designed shoes

Other treatments for numbness and weakness could include one or more of the following:

  • Limiting activity or movement
  • Slings, splints, braces, or other means of support/immobility
  • Physical therapy
  • Oral anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Shots
  • Surgery

It's very important to note that some conditions — such as sciatica — are often symptoms of other health problems, such as a slipped/herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

Seeking the advice of an orthopaedic specialist will ensure that your condition is diagnosed — and treated — as quickly and painlessly as possible. 

Learn more about treatments for joint numbness and weakness

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UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

From our Health Library: