Numb Fingertips

Facts You Should Know About Numb Fingertips


The human body is a highly sensitized instrument, so it can be extremely worrying when that sensitivity is dimmed such as when you experience numb fingertips and hands.  There are numerous possible causes of this sensation, some quite innocuous while others can be red flag indicators of a more serious issue.  Understanding the nerves can help to decipher what may be going on in the tips of your fingers; remember to always consult with your doctor when any sudden or new sensations occur.


What Causes Numbness?


A very complex nervous system that make up an intricate network of nerves running throughout the body gives humans the power to feel even the slightest of touch in some areas of the body.  The sense of touch is an important one; it helps us to detect heat, cold, hard, soft and much more that serves to keep us safe.


From time to time, something happens to certain nerves in the body to disrupt their normal function.  In other words, they do not provide the ability to detect feeling.  This lack of sensation is often the result of some type of irritation or compression of any part of a nerve that extends to the numb area.


We have all experienced the odd, rubbery feeling of an arm, hand or foot that has “fallen asleep” when we have sat or lain in the same position for a long period of time without moving.  The physiology of this phenomenon is that continuous or prolonged pressure upon a nerve or series of nerves disrupts the “traffic flow” along the network of sensations.  Think of it as a river; water flows freely through the riverbed until it arrives at a dam built by a family of beavers.  Once it reaches the dead end which is the dam, no water can reach the other side of the riverbed.  The same scenario occurs with our nerves when they are compressed through a bend of an elbow or a head lying on an arm.  The nerves that extend to that area reach the impasse and cease to create sensation from that point on.  In addition, no sensations from the furthest point out to the impasse are able to be transmitted to the brain and be recognized as a sensation.


When it is numb fingertips or hands that are the issue, the nerve in question will be one of three; the ulnar nerve, the median nerve or the radial nerve.


  • Ulnar nerve.  This nerve runs through the cubital tunnel at the inner part of the arm and the backside of the elbow, and is the culprit of the common “funny bone” sensation.  It supports muscles that allow bending of the hand and fingers.
  • Median nerve.  Running down the inside of the arm in conjunction with the ulnar nerve, the median nerve goes to the front of the elbow. It also supplies muscles to assist in bending of the hand and fingers, and is the primary nerve for bending the thumb.  The median nerve also provides sensation for most of the hand around the thumb, index finger and middle fingers as well as the palm of the hand.  It is generally responsible for the condition called carpal tunnel syndrome when it becomes compressed.
  • Radial nerve.  The radial swathes the arm; running along the back and outside of the upper arm and then the outside of the lower arm to the hand.  It provides sensation on the back of the hand as well as the index finger, middle and part of the ring finger. It supplies muscles with straightening powers for the elbow, wrist, thumb and fingers.


Possible Medical Causes For Numb Fingertips


There are certain medical conditions that have the symptom of numbness in the extremities such as hands and fingers.  Carpal tunnel syndrome is the one which people are most familiar, and is caused by repetitive movements or actions that continuously cause compression of the median nerve.  However, there are other conditions that could be causing the uncomfortable sensation.

  • Injury to one of the nerves in the neck can create numbness in the hand and/or fingers.
  • Diabetes can cause damage to nerves throughout the body which in turn will cause numbness and tingling.
  • Multiple sclerosis creates numbness in extremities.
  • Frostbite and atherosclerosis are both conditions that can prohibit blood supply to areas, which result in numbness.
  • Suffering a stroke can cause numbness depending on the severity of the damage to the brain.


There are many other reasons why hands and fingers can become numb.  It is vital for an individual to immediately consult with their physician should a sudden onset of numb fingertips or hands occur to rule out any serious medical conditions.  This is especially true if pain, burning, tingling or weakness is also present for seemingly no reason.


When a finely tuned and highly sensitive instrument like the human body experiences a disruption that suddenly causes numb fingertips, it is vital to get proper diagnosis and treatment.  Losing sensation in the hand or fingers can be a harmless condition, but it is best to rule out more serious causes to be sure.