While not super common, hand numbness while sleeping is an issue patients sometimes bring to our attention. We’re not talking about I fell asleep on my hand, and when I woke up it was numb; we’re talking about legitimate hand numbness that seems to recur most nights and may even wake you from sleep. If you fall into the latter group, you’d probably like to know what causes your hand numbness while you’re sleeping and whether or not you should be concerned.
Recently, we talked about big toe numbness and how a problem in the lumbar spine in the low back can cause it. Today, we’re going to address what might cause hand numbness while sleeping. Again, we’re going to focus in on the spine, but this time it’s the cervical spine in the neck.
Hand Numbness and Your Neck
The most common and most significant reason you may be consistently experiencing hand numbness while sleeping stems from your cervical spine, which is the neck portion of your spine. From the cervical spine, nerves branch from the neck down through the shoulder, upper arm, elbow, and all the way down to the hands and tips of the fingers. Hand numbness typically occurs when something has irritated a nerve along this branch, and the supply to the hand has been compressed causing it to block the nerve signals to the affected area (in this case the hand).
If the nerve is just compressed briefly, for example falling asleep on your arm, simply removing the object that is pressing on the nerve is enough to wake that nerve back up. However, if hand numbness while sleeping is a chronic issue, lasting weeks or longer, there may be a damaged or pinched nerve at play. Constant pressure on a nerve can not only cut the nerve signals but also the blood supply, starving the nerve of nutrients and oxygen, eventually deadening the nerve.
So what can irritate a cervical spine nerve? For starters, a herniated or bulging disc, cervical stenosis, or arthritis are all common problems that can occur in the neck. The spinal nerves travel through a tunnel in the spine called the foramen, and inflammation can cause the space the nerves travel through to narrow, or a damaged disc can put pressure on the nerve.
You might think this would mean you would also have significant neck pain in conjunction with your hand numbness. While there could be some neck pain or discomfort when you have an irritated nerve in your cervical spine, this isn’t always the case. The nervous system is all interconnected, and an irritation in the neck could be referring discomfort all the way at the bottom of the nerve branch, presenting as numbness in the hands. So until you’re neck has been examined, cervical nerve damage can’t be ruled out.
Other Issues Than Can Cause Hand Numbness While Sleeping
Thoracic outlet syndrome is another possibility that should be considered when you are struggling with hand numbness while you sleep. This is when nerve compression occurs in the shoulder area. This is common today due to our modern-day reliance on computers, constantly sitting at a desk, hunching our shoulders and head forward. Dr. Centeno’s book Orthopedics 2.0 contains some stretches that can help with this, and it is available as a free PDF download.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is another culprit of hand numbness while sleeping. In this case the median nerve branch into the hand becomes pinched at the wrist level. Again, our modern-day desk lives involving repetitive keyboard use are typically to blame here. But the wrist should also be examined to rule this out when hand numbness is an issue.
If I Wait It Out, Will May Hand Numbness Go Away?
While there are things you can do that may relieve your hand numbness while you sleep, such as wearing a wrist brace or neck brace at night, if the source of the problem is not addressed, these solutions may only be temporary. While these conservative measures, including physical therapy, can be tried, if they fail to permanently relieve your hand numbness, it’s a good idea to see an interventional orthopedic physician for a proper examination.
If conservative techniques are ineffective, we certainly don’t recommend waiting it out. Why? Not addressing these issues can lead to worsening problems down the road, such as arthritis in the hands or wrists, lateral or medial epicondylitis in the elbow, weakened muscles causing instability, and so on.
If you have a problem with hand numbness while sleeping, get it checked sooner rather than later. Finding the source of the issue is the key to stopping further damage before it progresses. For some conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, and arthritis traditional physicians may recommend surgery, but surgery carries its own list of side effects and long recovery times. Your regenerative medicine physician, on the other hand (see video below), may be able to address these or any spinal issues without surgery.