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Legs Or Arms Falling Asleep

My Arms Fall Asleep, But I Can't

 Many people complain of their arms and/or legs falling asleep, or developing numbness and/or tingling. The medical term for these altered feelings of the limbs is paresthesia. Although paresthesia's can happen at any time, they seem most typical at rest such as
 sitting, driving or particularly sleeping.

 Usually, but not always, numbness and tingling of an arm or leg is representative of a type of neuropathy or nerve entrapment. Other causes include stroke, multiple sclerosis, hyperventilation, anxiety, vitamin deficiencies, and anemia's. In my practice, the most common form of limb numbness is that of nerve compression either at the
 spinal level, or in the shoulder, pelvis or limb muscles directly.

 Some common forms of limb numbness diagnosis are carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet, ulnar neuritis, disk herniation, spinal stenosis, sciatica, and piriformis syndrome. There is considerable dispute as to why or how we develop these conditions. Often there are several factors that lead up to these problems in the limbs.

 Repetitive work is often a factor in limb paresthesia, and the probable mechanism is that of spinal disk compression of the neck (arms) or low back (legs) and/or muscle shortening of the muscles of the shoulder and forearm (arms) and buttocks and hamstrings (legs).

Injuries of the spine can cause muscle, disk and even bone changes that can lead to nerve entrapment of the spine or limb muscles, much like in repetitive injuries. Anxiety and depression can contribute to chronic muscle spasm of the neck, spine and limbs, and is often a complicating factor as people in pain start to get more anxious when their pains do not go away or improve. Sleeping and sitting positions can really be a problem as can day to day wear and tear. B12, folate and iron deficiencies can easily contribute to pain and paresthesia of the limbs, as can certain medication such as chemotherapy or heavy
 metal poisoning. Medical conditions that attack the nervous or musculoskeletal system (MS, ALS, Rheumatoid Arthritis) can also cause a variety of paresthesia's.

Fortunately, for many of us, muscle shortening of the spine and/or limbs will be a very common cause that can be improved with a variety of therapies including physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy and, of course, stretching. It should be mentioned that limb numbness or tingling should not be ignored, and deserves medical assessment.

As always, keep long and strong.




G. Blair Lamb MD, C.C.F.P.

Pain and Rehabilitation Consultant

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  Last Updated: May 11, 2015

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