How numbness and tingling could signal nerve damage

Nerve damage tends to be worse in the part of the body that was injured. Picture: Kindel Media /Pexels

Nerve damage tends to be worse in the part of the body that was injured. Picture: Kindel Media /Pexels

Published Apr 9, 2024


Numbness, a feeling of pins and needles, or sharp pains are often overlooked as reasons to see a doctor. However, these sensations could be warning signs of nerve damage, a condition that might be more common than many think.

Tanya Buys, a pharmacist at Medipost Pharmacy, explained: "Our nerves form a complex network that allows our brain to communicate with our organs and muscles, controlling everything from our heartbeat to our ability to feel heat or cold.

“This network can be disrupted by many things, including injuries, infections, diseases like diabetes, genetic conditions, or toxins exposure."

This insight underlines the importance of not ignoring those odd tingling sensations, as they could be the first sign of a larger issue.

Health experts are highlighting the importance of B vitamins for maintaining a healthy nervous system, especially for those with nerve damage or as a preventive step.

The truth is, that our daily meals might not provide enough of these essential nutrients. Without enough vitamins B1, B6, and B12, people can face long-term nerve damage.

“It’s critical to talk regularly with your doctor or pharmacist about what supplements you might need,” said Buys, a pharmacist at Medipost Pharmacy.

Pharmacist Tanya Buys of Medipost Pharmacy.Picture: Supplied

Nerve damage isn't just an issue of discomfort; it can lead to weakness, loss of sensation, and even severe pain. Victims often describe their suffering as a mix of burning, stabbing, or tingling, with the affected area being overly sensitive to touch.

Regular painkillers like paracetamol often don’t cut it for them, requiring doctors to prescribe special medication for what's known as neuropathic pain.

But how does one end up with nerve damage in the first place? It turns out, injuries are a common cause.

"The severity of the injury usually dictates how extensive the damage is. While minor injuries might lead to some level of nerve damage, the body often heals itself. More significant injuries, though, can lead to severe damage needing specialized nerve repair," explained Buys.

According to Buys, the specific treatment for nerve damage depends largely on its cause and extent. She points out multiple sclerosis and shingles as conditions that can lead to rapid and in the case of MS, permanent nerve deterioration if not treated early.

“A neurologist’s early diagnosis is key to managing the disease from the start, essentially to slow down or stop further nerve damage and improve the patient’s life,” she said.

When nerves don't work right, they can't send proper signals to and from the brain correctly, leading to discomfort or pain.

This damage usually hits hardest in the part of your body where you were injured. For example, if you hurt your arm or shoulder, you might notice more issues in your arms or hands than in your legs or feet.

Signs of nerve damage:

  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Feeling like you’re wearing a tight glove or sock
  • Muscle weakness, especially in your arms or legs
  • Regularly dropping objects that you’re holding
  • Sharp pains in your hands, arms, legs, or feet
  • A buzzing sensation that feels like a mild electrical shock

Nerve damage tends to be worse in the part of the body that was injured. For example, if you injured your arm or shoulder, you may have more symptoms in your arms and hands than in your feet.

Buys cautioned people with diabetes that they were more likely to get nerve damage if their blood sugar wasn't kept under control.

She said that doctors might suggest using insulin pumps. These pumps give insulin all day and night, and are really helpful for young kids and people who have trouble keeping their blood sugar steady.

Buys also talked about how important it was for people with nerve damage, or their caregivers, to regularly check for cuts or wounds.

Since nerve damage can make it hard to feel pain, a person might not notice having a cut or sore, which could get infected if not taken care of. It's especially important for diabetics to check their feet and toes to stop serious issues.

Besides keeping an eye out for injuries, Buys advised against smoking and drinking alcohol which slow down the body’s healing. Instead, doing more physical activities can help with blood flow and keep moving.

Also wear warm clothes and use a hot water bottle at night in winter. These steps can help avoid further problems from nerve damage.