Pins and needles is a pricking, burning, tingling or numbing sensation that is most commonly felt in the arms, legs, hands or feet.
It does not usually cause any pain, but it can cause numbness or itching.
Pins and needles is often temporary, but it can sometimes be long-lasting (chronic).
The medical name for pins and needles is paraesthesia.
Temporary pins and needles
Most people have temporary pins and needles from time to time. It happens when pressure is applied to a part of the body, which cuts off the blood supply to the nerves in that area. This prevents the nerves from sending important signals to the brain.
Putting weight on a body part (for example, by kneeling) or wearing tight shoes or socks can potentially cause pins and needles.
Temporary pins and needles can be eased by simply taking the pressure off the affected area. This will allow your blood supply to return, relieving the numbness or tingling sensation.
A common condition known as Raynaud's disease can also cause temporary pins and needles. Raynaud's disease affects the blood supply to certain areas of the body, such as the fingers and toes, and is usually triggered by cold temperatures, anxiety or stress.
Other common reasons for temporary pins and needles include dehydration and hyperventilating (breathing too quickly).
Long-lasting pins and needles
Sometimes, pins and needles can occur over a long period of time. It can be a sign of a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, a condition in which there is too much glucose in the blood.
Persistent pins and needles can also occur after an injury, or can be caused by certain treatments such as chemotherapy (a powerful medication used to treat cancer).
Treatment for chronic pins and needles will depend on the cause. For example, if it is caused by diabetes, treatment will focus on controlling your blood glucose levels. This may involve having regular insulin injections and ensuring that you eat a healthy balanced diet.
Read more about treating type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
When to see your GP
Most cases of pins and needles are temporary and the sensation disappears after the pressure is taken off the affected area.
See your GP if you constantly have pins and needles or if it keeps coming back. It may be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition.
For example, prolonged pins and needles may be caused by the conditions mentioned above, or:
- a compressed ulnar nerve – the ulnar nerve starts in your neck and runs down the inside of your upper arm to your elbow
- carpal tunnel syndrome – pain, numbness and a burning or tingling sensation in the hand caused by a build-up of pressure in the small tunnel that runs from the wrist to the lower palm (the carpal tunnel)
- sciatica – pain caused by irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the back of your pelvis, through your buttocks and down both legs to your feet
Long-lasting pins and needles may also be caused by:
- a condition that damages the nervous system, such as a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or a brain tumour
- exposure to toxic substances, such as lead or radiation
- certain types of medication, such as HIV medication, medication to prevent seizures (anticonvulsants), or some antibiotics
- malnutrition – where the body lacks important nutrients because of a poor diet
- a vitamin B12 deficiency
- nerve damage caused by infection, injury or overuse – for example, a condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome may be the result of regularly using vibrating tools
- alcohol misuse
- cervical spondylosis – the bones and tissues of the spine can wear down over time, leading to trapped nerves and occasionally pins and needles
Pins and needles usually affects the arms, legs, hands or feet, and is often temporary
Itching is a common symptom that can be caused by a number of conditions. Find out why it happens and what you can do about it
Page last reviewed: 10/04/2014
Next review due: 10/04/2016