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.
Kneeling can often cause pins and needles by limiting the blood supply to the nerves in your lower legs.
Temporary pins and needles can be eased by simply taking the pressure off the affected area. This will allow your blood supply to return, alleviating the numbness or tingling sensation.
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 doctor
Most cases of pins and needles are temporary and the sensation disappears after the pressure is taken off the affected area.
See your doctor 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 a trapped or compressed nerve, such as:
- 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 is 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 is 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.
A person may have pins and needles in their lips and limbs if they hyperventilate (breathe abnormally quickly while resting).
Long-lasting pins and needles may also be caused by:
- exposure to toxic substances, such as lead or radiation
- certain types of medication, such as chemotherapy, HIV medication or medication to prevent seizures (anticonvulsants)
- malnutrition, where the body lacks important nutrients because of a poor diet
- a vitamin B12 deficiency
- nerve damage due to infection or injury
- alcohol misuse