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Jewish World Review
Ask the Harvard Experts: Tingling hands at night
Howard LeWine, M.D.
Q. I wake up at night with pins and needles in one or both of my hands. I've tried chiropractic treatments, physical therapy, and a special pillow, with no success. What's causing this, and what can I do to stop it?
A. The likeliest cause of your symptoms is compression of one or both of the main nerves that supply feeling and function to your hands. These nerves--the median and ulnar nerves--run from the spinal cord at the neck all the way down to the hands. If they come under pressure at any point along the way, the arm or hand may feel as if it has "fallen asleep."
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This is most likely to occur if you sit or lie with your hands in one position for a long time--a situation that's naturally most common during sleep. Certain conditions--for example, rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism--can contribute to the symptoms you describe. So can heavy or repetitive work with your hands. Your symptoms could also be an early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by pressure on the median nerve at the wrist.
If you can relieve the tingling by shaking or rubbing your hands for a few minutes, that's a good sign; it means you don't have permanent nerve damage. If you haven't already done so, ask your doctor to examine your wrists and elbows. She or he may recommend wrist splints to keep your wrists straight during sleep, or pads to reduce the pressure on your elbows.
Sometimes a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil, for example) or a steroid injection is needed to reduce swelling from inflamed wrist tendons. If none of these suggestions work, ask for a referral to a hand specialist. -- Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D., Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch
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