Everyday Health

Is Arm Numbness and Tingling Ever Cause for Concern?

Originally published January 22, 2020

Last updated April 23, 2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Numbness and tingling in your left arm or right arm isn’t always caused by poor body mechanics. Read on to learn what medical conditions might be behind it and when you should see a doctor.

Have you ever woken up with a pins and needles sensation on the arm you were sleeping on? Or, maybe, you were leaning back on your arm, and it went numb? These odd tingles are caused by pressure on a nerve, and luckily, they go away, when the pressure is taken off.

But, when bad posture isn’t to blame for arm numbness and tingling, it could be a sign of a medical condition. Here are a few possible causes.

1. Cervical spine issues

While it may not be the first thing that comes to your mind, the source of your arm tingling may actually be your neck. When the discs between the vertebrae in your neck bulge or slide out of place, arm tingling can be a clue that it’s happening. “Arm tingling is a common symptom of cervical spine issues,” says Jeffrey C. Wang, MD, codirector of the USC Spine Center at Keck Medicine of USC and professor of orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “The nerves originate from the spinal cord in the neck and travel down from the spine into the arm and hands. When there is a problem in the neck, such as an irritated or pinched nerve, this can cause symptoms like tingling or numbness that travels into the arm.”

Other clues that your arm tingling is related to your neck include neck pain and stiffness. This is especially true, if your symptoms start in your neck and travel down into your arm, he adds.

If you’re experiencing tingling, numbness or pain in your arm, Dr. Wang advises seeing a doctor. “There are tests and imaging studies that can be helpful in making the proper diagnosis,” he explains.

2. Type 2 diabetes

Numbness or tingling in the arms will not likely be the first sign of type 2 diabetes, but if you already know you have the disease, you should be on the lookout for this symptom, as it could signal a type of nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy. About half of people with diabetes develop peripheral neuropathy, which is caused by high blood sugar over time. Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include numbness, pain or weakness in your arms, feet, legs or hands.

If you think your symptoms might be peripheral neuropathy, talk to your doctor. Treatment options include medications for nerve pain and physical therapy.

3. Stroke

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel, and symptoms can include numbness in the arm, face or leg — often on one side of the body. Other telltale stroke symptoms include severe headache, trouble speaking or walking, dizziness and confusion.

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke is critical to preventing death or permanent damage. The symptoms usually come on quickly, and when they do, it’s imperative to get medical attention immediately.

4. Multiple sclerosis

Numbness or tingling can sometimes be a sign of multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the body mistakenly attacks the nerve coating, called myelin, in the central nervous system. Other common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include vision problems, such as blurriness and double vision, as well as fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of balance and coordination.

If you are experiencing any of these issues, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to be evaluated.

5. Seizure

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and one type of seizure, called a partial or focal seizure, can be associated with abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling of the skin. Partial seizures are the most common type of seizure.

Partial seizures can manifest in different ways, with a wide array of symptoms that range from abnormal muscle contraction or eye movements to sweating or hallucinations.

Seek medical attention, if you think you have experienced a seizure.


Tina Donvito
Tina Donvito is a freelance writer covering health, culture, travel and parenting.