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Limb numbness

6-minute read

If your limb is numb and you also suddenly have weakness or paralysis, confusion, difficulty talking, dizziness, a sudden, severe headache or can’t control your bladder or bowels, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Numbness, sometimes called ‘paraesthesia’, means you lose some or all sensation in the affected part of your body.
  • There are a range of health problems that can cause limb numbness.
  • The treatment of limb numbness will depend on the underlying cause.
  • Limb numbness can sometimes be prevented, depending on what that cause of the limb numbness is.

What is limb numbness?

Numbness, sometimes called ‘paraesthesia’, means you lose some or all sensation in the affected part of your body. It is due to a problem with the nerves sending signals to the brain. You won’t feel light touch, pain or temperature.

You can experience numbness anywhere in your body, but it’s most commonly felt in the fingers, hands, feet, arms, or legs. You might also feel a tingling, prickling, or ‘pins and needles’ sensation.

Having a numb limb can lead to other problems, such as falling or not noticing an injury, infection or sore.

What causes limb numbness?

There are many causes of limb numbness. The most common cause is sitting on one of your legs or sleeping on an arm for a long time. This causes numbness because sitting or lying awkwardly on a limb compresses the nerves that go to that area and temporarily affect their function.

Some serious conditions can also make your limbs go numb. These include chronic health problems such as:

Health problems that affect the brain and nervous system can also lead to limb numbness.

These include:

Other causes of limb numbness include:

When should I see my doctor?

Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if your limb is numb and you also suddenly have:

See your doctor if your limb is numb for a long time which is not caused by your posture, especially if you have any other symptoms such as:

  • muscle spasms
  • a rash
  • your leg numbness is worse when you walk
  • you're urinating more often than usual
  • you have had a recent injury, especially to your back, neck or head
  • vision changes
  • severe pain or weakness

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How is limb weakness diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. They may also refer you for tests to find out the cause of your numbness. Make sure you tell them if you have had any recent injuries, illnesses or infections.

How is limb numbness treated?

The treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the numbness. Some types of long-term nerve problems can be treated with medicines including antidepressants or corticosteroids.

If your symptoms are caused by fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis or diabetic neuropathy, you may also be prescribed gabapentin and pregabalin.

Can limb numbness be prevented?

Limb numbness can sometimes be prevented, depending on what the cause is. For example, maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active can reduce the chance of developing diabetes, a potential cause of limb numbness. Unfortunately, some causes of limb numbness such as multiple sclerosis can’t be prevented.

Resources and support

See the Brain Foundation for more information about limb numbness caused by peripheral neuropathy.

Call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for more information and advice.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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