There are an estimated 20 million people in the United States alone who suffer from peripheral neuropathy – or damage to the peripheral nervous system. The body’s nerve “highway” only functions properly when there’s an open pathway between the brain & spinal cord (central nervous system) and the muscles. From telling our brain that our body has a fever – to prompting our muscles to rise from bed in the morning, the bits of sensory information we receive from nerves are vital to our survival. Nerve damage can manifest itself in a number of ways; genetics, preexisting conditions (such as diabetes), traumatic injuries that compress the nerves, infections, and exposure to toxins are just a few.
Some people with nerve damage have no outward symptoms at all, or experience pain; however, numbness in the extremities (toes, hands, and feet) is often the very first sign that something is amiss. This decrease in one’s sensitivity to touch can interfere with dexterity and daily life as a whole. Additionally, it can be hazardous when it affects a person’s balance. Because severely injured regions of the body often mask pain with numbness, it’s imperative to seek the help of an orthopaedic specialist who can properly diagnose and treat your condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one orthopedic condition that’s quite common and can result in numbness in the hand and arm. Caused by compression of the median nerve – one of the primary nerves running through the hand, this degenerative disease gets worse over time, so it’s important to get medical help early. In most cases, permanent damage can be avoided through the use of a splint and temporarily reducing use of the damaged limb.
Pinched nerve of the spine, or radiculopathy, can cause numbness or pain throughout the body. Our spinal discs are covered in an outer layer that can degrade over time; this allows pressure to build up on nearby spinal nerves, or sparks the cultivation of bone spurs. Age, obesity, and general wear-and-tear are the common culprits that cause pinched nerves. Your physician may recommend limiting certain strenuous activities, icing the affected area, and participating in physical therapy to heal the damaged region.
In some cases, numbness can be a sign of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – which is the most widespread neurological condition among young adults. Typically diagnosed in patients between the ages of 20 and 40, this condition is marked by numbness and tingling, muscle weakness, fatigue, vertigo, and vision problems. Your primary care physician can refer you to a neurologist who specializes in MS.
People don’t typically associate osteoporosis with the neck. However, cervical spondylosis is a rampant epidemic that affects a staggering 85% of people over the age of 60. Wear-and-tear of the bones & cartilage is to blame, and it presents itself with a tingling or numbness in the arms and shoulders. According to Healthline, reflex tests, and a movement assessment are often very telling, and will help your doctor determine if you’ll require imaging and nerve function tests.
Are you experiencing numbness? It may be a symptom of something more serious. To assess your condition, your physician will utilize electrophysiological tests, such as nerve conduction studies – which can measure a patient’s nerve signals and gauge when they’re not communicating properly with the body’s muscles. Electromyogram (EMG) will also be useful in detecting nerve & muscle damage.
Don’t delay treatment; diagnosis is the first step in gauging the severity of your situation. The specialists at Watauga Orthopaedics offer comprehensive care for many musculoskeletal issues, and can assist you in getting on the road to recovery. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (423) 282-9011.
1National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
2National Institutes of Health
4American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons