What Causes Arm Numbness?

Your arm might "fall asleep" or it could be a medical issue

Numbness, tingling, or unusual sensations in the arms or hands should never be ignored. Called paresthesia, it can be caused by pressure on a nerve.

There are many different causes of arm numbness, including a pinched nerve or nerve disease. Often, these conditions can be effectively treated, but the management of each cause differs.

Usually, medical issues that cause arm numbness are expected to worsen if they are not treated. This article will describe the causes and treatments of arm numbness, as well as when to get emergency medical attention.

A person's arm is checked by a healthcare provider

wutwhanfoto / Getty Images

Sudden Arm Numbness: Common Causes

Arm numbness can develop suddenly or gradually. The time course and precipitating factors are often helpful in identifying the cause.

One of the most common reasons for sudden numbness and tingling in the arm is when the area "falls asleep." This can affect anyone after lying or leaning on the arm for more than a few minutes. The sensation improves on its own after a couple of minutes if the external pressure is removed.

Sudden arm numbness lasting longer than a few minutes is associated with serious medical problems.

Arm numbness can occur suddenly due to the following:

  • Stroke, which can cause sensory changes on one side of the body, and may also cause weakness 
  • Cervical disc trauma or herniation, which can also cause severe neck pain
  • Traumatic injury to the arm or shoulder, which may cause a loss of sensation, swelling, and numbness
  • Severe frostbite, which may cause pale or bluish fingers and tingling or sensory loss
  • A blood clot in the arm, which may also cause swelling of the affected arm
  • Heart attack, which may cause chest pain with numbness or tingling of the left arm or jaw

These medical issues are dangerous, have a rapid onset of symptoms, and can cause severe and permanent health effects. For example, frostbite might cause tissue death in the fingers or hand, necessitating an amputation. A blood clot in the arm may travel to the lungs and potentially be fatal.

Less common causes of arm numbness include migraine attacks and seizures.

Medication and Arm Numbness

The relationship between arm numbness and medication is complex:

  • Many medications, like Neurontin (gabapentin), can be used to alleviate the uncomfortable sensations of arm numbness.
  • Some medications may cause numbness as a side effect.
  • Some medications can cause complications—and arm numbness could be a symptom of the complications.

Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all medications you’re taking to determine a relationship between the medication and your sensory changes.

New or Worsening Arm Numbness: Signs of an Emergency 

If your arm numbness is new or worsening, you should get prompt medical attention. Do not wait to see what happens—arm numbness can progress rapidly, with irreversible damage to your health.

Signs that your arm numbness is an emergency include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Spreading of numbness or tingling up or down the arm
  • Pain or numbness in the neck
  • Difficulty moving your hand, arm, or any part of your body
  • Changes in vision
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

If you or someone else is experiencing any of these symptoms, do not hesitate—call for emergency medical help right away.

When Should You Worry About Arm Numbness?

Sometimes you need to take arm numbness seriously. If your arm numbness is new or suddenly worsening and isn’t caused by your arm falling asleep, then you need to get medical attention. A good rule of thumb is that if you are concerned about arm numbness, you should consult a healthcare provider.

Arm Feels Weird But Comes and Goes: What Now?

If you have been having arm numbness, tingling, or unusual sensations that come and go, it is important to get medical attention. This pattern, though, is not usually an emergency.

Causes of intermittent arm numbness include:

  • Neuropathy (a type of nerve damage) is most commonly due to diabetes or chronic alcohol use, but there are many other causes.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure on the median nerve in the wrist, usually due to repetitive overuse.
  • A pinched nerve in the cervical spine (cervical radiculopathy) is very common with degenerative spine disease or arthritis.
  • Peripheral vascular disease can cause a gradual disruption to blood flow to or from the arm.
  • Anxiety attacks may cause a variety of symptoms, including a sense of tingling, numbness, or loss of sensation in the hands during episodes of panic and severe anxiety.
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome is the entrapment of the nerve that runs through the elbow. It may occur due to overuse, swelling, or trauma.

How to Get Rid of Arm Numbness

To relieve the common sensation of your arm falling asleep, shifting positions to ease pressure on the arm should resolve it in a minute or two.

For longer-lasting numbness, it's important to see a healthcare provider for diagnosis and get treatment for the underlying medical issue to reduce the risk of permanent damage.

Arm numbness can be an uncomfortable sensation that prevents you from using your hand or arm the way you want to. Medications that can relieve the discomfort include Tegretol (carbamazepine) and topical lidocaine.

The medical interventions for arm numbness may involve emergency procedures.

Emergency treatments may include:

  • Heart attack: Blood pressure management, medication, urgent angioplasty, or open-heart surgery 
  • Cervical spine herniated disc: Anti-inflammatory treatment or surgery and physical therapy
  • Blood clot in the arm: Rapid treatment with blood thinners or surgical removal of the clot
  • Stroke: Blood pressure management, with possible administration of blood thinners
  • Frostbite: Prompt treatment to safely restore blood flow
  • Trauma to the hand or arm: Treatment for fractures, blood vessel tears, and evacuation of accumulated blood with surgery

If you've had intermittent arm numbness or received appropriate emergency treatment to stabilize a dangerous condition, you will potentially need maintenance treatment and medical follow-up as your condition resolves. 


Arm numbness or tingling are fairly common symptoms that can be caused by various medical conditions. Sometimes this symptom results from your arm “falling asleep,” and it could resolve after just a few minutes.

However, arm numbness and tingling may also occur due to neuropathy, a chronic and progressive type of nerve damage. It may also suddenly occur due to serious conditions, such as a heart attack or a stroke.

If you are experiencing a sudden onset of arm or hand numbness lasting more than a few minutes, you should seek prompt medical attention. If you’ve been having intermittent numbness in your arms or hands, you should make an appointment to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Paresthesia.

  2. Jackson SL, Legvold B, Vahratian A, Blackwell DL, Fang J, Gillespie C, Hayes D, Loustalot F. Sociodemographic and geographic variation in awareness of stroke signs and symptoms among adults - United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(44):1617-1621. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6944a1

  3. Shugan A. A case study on differential diagnosis of episodic left arm numbness. Neurodiagn J. 2021;61(4):196-202. doi:10.1080/21646821.2021.1993699

  4. Senderovich H, Jeyapragasan G. Is there a role for combined use of gabapentin and pregabalin in pain control? Too good to be true? Curr Med Res Opin. 2018;34(4):677-682. doi:10.1080/03007995.2017.1391756

  5. Worthley E. Neuropathic upper extremity pain: a double-crush scenario. JAAPA. 2022;35(12):28-31. doi:10.1097/01.JAA.0000885148.23550.32

  6. Plener J, da Silva-Oolup S, To D, et al. Eligibility criteria of participants in randomized controlled trials assessing conservative management of cervical radiculopathy: a systematic review. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2023;48(10):E132-E157. doi:10.1097/BRS.0000000000004537

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.