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Many patients report that their hands go numb when they sleep. Should this be something that worries you, or is it no big deal? Here’s why you should be concerned about this problem and what may be causing it.

When any body part goes numb, it means that the nerve supply to that area has been cut off. If your hands are going numb while you sleep, that indicates that some nerve that goes from your neck to the hand is being compressed. Nerves have their own blood supply, so pressure on a nerve cuts off that blood supply and the nerve becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients and shuts down. If this happens for a short period of time, the nerve wakes up again once the pressure is removed. Continued pressure on the nerve can mean that it gets a little damaged with each episode. Months or years of numb hands at night can be a symptom of damaged nerves.

The most significant cause is neck (cervical) stenosis or a disc bulge, leaving little room for the nerves. You don’t have to experience constant neck pain with stenosis or a disc bulge; some patients just notice that their hands are numb. When the neck gets into a weird position at night and the muscles that protect it during the day relax, the nerves become crunched and the hands go numb. Many times a cervical collar worn only at night will reduce the numbness. You may need to experiment with different collars or varying amounts of tightness. If this helps your hands, you likely should have a cervical MRI to check out the cause of the problem.

The second biggest cause is thoracic outlet syndrome. This means that the nerves are getting crunched in the shoulder area. This is a common problem for modern computer users, as the shoulder and head come forward leading to nerve compression. Specific stretching exercises can address this. Other causes can include carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists. This is when the main nerve of the hand (median nerve) gets pinched in the tunnel that it traverses in the wrist. If this is the cause, simple wrist splints worn at night usually help. Both of these issues may require your doctor to take a closer look at the overarching cause of this problem.

One of the reasons you should be vigilant about addressing hand numbness is that it can lead to other problems. These can appear in the upper extremities and include tennis and golfer’s elbow (lateral and medial epicondylitis) as well as osteoarthritis in the hands and shoulder. Some research indicates that bad nerves may end up dumping nasty arthritis-causing chemicals into the joints.

Numbness in your hands at night is a big deal. Though it’s often ignored by physicians who aren’t experts in the area of musculoskeletal treatment, it should be taken seriously and its root cause identified. Otherwise, your nerves slowly may become less sensitive or your shoulders, elbows, or hands may begin to ache all the time.


“Hands Numb While Sleeping” first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.

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