Numbness and Tingling: Normal or a Warning Sign?

Numbness and Tingling

A common condition that I see in my office is numbness and tingling that travels into the extremities. Some people think that it’s normal or just a part of the “aging” process to experience this but in fact this type of secondary condition can be an indicator of a much deeper problem.

Numbness tingling
Numbness and Tingling into the wrist or hand is a common secondary condition

In order to understand these secondary conditions we first need to understand a bit of anatomy and how nerve information is sent through the body. Nerves in the neck travel down the arms to your hands and nerves in the low back travel down the legs to your feet.

Information or sensations are conveyed up and down through these nerves at a very rapid rate some as fast as 120 m/sec. If information can travel through a healthy “UN-obstructed” nerve you will have normal sensations like temperature, pain, vibration sense, motor movement and organ function. In other words information must travel through these nerves just so your body can work properly. These normal actions and reactions occur by way of an action potential.

If we were to take a nerve cell and cut it in half we would see that inside the cell walls are different channels. These channels allow the passage of Sodium (Na+) into the cell and Potassium (K+) out of the cell. These channels are constantly trying to balance the polarity inside the cell with the polarity outside the cell. In order for a signal to travel through the length of a nerve, sodium channels open at one end of the nerve letting in sodium ions. This increases the number of (+) ions inside the cell. Once it reaches a threshold or the maximum level, potassium channels open to let potassium ions out of the cell. This series of channels opening and closing works its way down the length of the nerve cell and continues into the next nerve. These action potentials occur very quickly at a high rate of speed.

If at any point there’s an obstruction along the path of these nerves the structural integrity of the cell walls will be compromised. Obstructions most commonly occur where nerves exit the spinal column or pass through joints in the extremities. When this happens the sodium and potassium channels are distorted, in other words they wont open or close properly. It’s kind of like having an old wooden door that expanded in the humidity and now it doesn’t close properly. If this occurs the action potential can be stuck in the on position causing improper flow of ions in and or out of the cell. When this happens action potentials can travel constantly when no action potential is needed. So the signal keeps shooting down the length of the nerve because it is constantly being compressed at the opposite end.

These types of compressions or obstructions are commonly known as carpal tunnel and cubital

Numbness tinglng
Numbness and tingling into the lower extremity is commonly called Sciatica

tunnel syndrome in the wrist and elbow (respectively), sciatica and piriformis syndrome in the legs. In all of these instances numbness and tingling symptoms can occur. Even though there are many names for these conditions the primary source of these problems begins in the neck or low back by way of a segmental displacement. The nerves in the neck or the low back are obstructed or compressed by the vertebra and as a result a constant action potential is sent down through the nerve. When this potential reaches the end of the nerve it relays a numbness and tingling or pain sensation. The interesting thing is that based on the location of the numbness and tingling, what fingers, toes or area of the arm are affected, will help your doctor determine what nerve root and spinal level is responsible for this pain pattern.

This direct obstruction or even pinching of the spinal nerves leads to the secondary condition of numbness and tingling. Very often this condition is slow in progression taking months or years to reach a level that is intolerable. Sometimes common solutions may not work in the treatment of numbness and tingling due to a structural cause. If your numbness and tingling does not respond to common options then an investigation by a Specific Structural Correction doctor may be needed.

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