Numbness and shock-like electrical sensations in the fingers can cause discomfort and lead to difficulty picking things up or weakness in the fingers. Nerve problems generally cause these symptoms. The burning, tingling or prickling sensations, called paresthesias, need evaluation if they last more than a few minutes. The sensations may come and go when you change position and take the pressure off a nerve or increase blood flow to the fingers. Three nerves cause symptoms in the hand: the median, radial and ulnar.
Temporarily compressing the nerves that lead to the fingers can cause tingling or numbness in the fingers. Decreased blood flow can cause a similar sensation. This sensation, known as "pins and needles," normally lasts just a few minutes. More serious nerve compression can occur from damage in the nerves leading from the spine or neck down the arm to the fingers. Ulnar nerve compression can cause problems with your little finger and half of the ring finger, for example, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Diabetes, stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, problems with the cervical discs in your neck, infection or trauma also can damage nerves, as can vitamin B-12 deficiency, toxins and abnormal calcium levels.
Because so many different disorders, including medical diseases such as diabetes, can cause numbness and tingling in the fingers, see your doctor if your symptoms persist. Diagnosing nerve problems often requires specialized testing that traces the movement of electrical impulses down the nerve into the fingers. Slower-than-normal conduction of nerve impulses can indicate nerve compression along the route. Tests used to determine nerve damage includes nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyograms, also known as EMGs.
Surgery can release entrapped nerves from being compressed in some cases. If diabetes or other systemic illnesses are causing nerve damage, treating the disease will help improve the symptoms. If your doctor can pinpoint the source of nerve damage, he may be able to tell you how to avoid it. Hand rests, splints and avoiding certain positions, such as leaning on your elbows, can help relieve numbness and tingling in some cases.
Numbness and tingling can result in injury if you drop something you're trying to pick up. You also may have decreased sensation in the fingers, which can result in a burn if you can't accurately sense that an object is too hot to pick up. Around 50 percent of all diabetics have nerve damage, according to the American Diabetes Association; if you have diabetes, you may develop nerve damage in other parts of your body as well over time.
- NetDoctor UK; Tingling and Numbness in my Fingertips; May 2011
- Hand Health Resources: Numbness and Tingling
- American Diabetes Association: Neuropathy -- Nerve Damage
- Better Medicine: Tingling Fingers
- American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
- MedlinePlus; Numbness and Tingling; April 2011