Numbness in the arm

What is numbness in the arm

Normally, our nerves continuously carry information from all over the body to the brain. If some information, for example about touch and pain, cannot be passed on, we feel numb in the affected area.

This means that either there is always a strange feeling or a touch on the arm cannot be perceived as such. An example of this is when an arm fell asleep because pressure was applied to a nerve for too long. There are many different causes for this, most of which are completely harmless, but some also need to be treated directly.


There are many reasons for numbness in the arm.

  • One possibility is external pressure on a nerve, which is colloquially known as an arm that has fallen asleep.
  • Deafness can also occur after insect bites.
  • Pressure on the nerve can also develop further centrally, for example when a nerve is pressed in by a disc in the cervical spine.
  • A stroke can also lead to numbness in one arm or other parts of the body.
  • Multiple sclerosis can also start with numbness in one arm or leg.
  • After an accident, numbness in the arm can indicate damage to the spinal cord.

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Through tension

Tension means that a muscle is constantly exerting force. Many nerves run through muscle gaps in one or more places. If these muscles are constantly tense, the nerve can become irritated and lead to numbness. The affected muscle usually feels very hard, especially when compared to the opposite side. The numbness point would then have to be further outside.

An improvement can often be achieved with a hot water bottle on the affected muscle. If the symptoms persist, drug therapy, for example a pain injection, can help.

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After an insect bite

An insect bite leads to a local allergic reaction with water retention in the tissue. If there is a strong reaction, this can also put pressure on local nerves.

Diseases such as neuroboreliosis when a tick bites, can lead to numbness and other neurological symptoms. The local swelling caused by mosquito bites should subside after a few days.

However, if you feel numb in your arm after a tick bite, you should consult a doctor immediately, as antibiotic therapy is required.

You may also be interested in the following article: Inflamed insect bite - what to do and when is it dangerous?

Herniated disc of the cervical spine

There are cushioning discs, the so-called intervertebral discs, between the individual vertebral bodies of the spine. If the stress is incorrect, these can be destroyed and depress the nerves that come off the spinal cord. Depending on the severity of the herniated disc, this can lead to pain and numbness in the affected areas.

A numb feeling in the arm suggests a herniated disc of C6, C7 or C8, as these are the nerve roots that are responsible for the sensitivity of the arms.

  • With a herniated disc of C6, numbness in the thumb and on the thumb-side forearm is to be expected.
  • At C7, the numbness is more likely in the middle three fingers and pulls up to half of the forearm on the outside.
  • A herniated disc of C8 causes numbness in the little finger and the little finger side of the forearm.

If the upper arm is affected by numbness, depending on the location, C5, more on the outside, or TH1, more on the inside, can also be affected.

In the case of mild complaints, those affected can benefit from strengthening the muscles and physiotherapy. If the symptoms are more severe and if paralysis occurs in addition to the numbness, an operation on the intervertebral disc may be necessary.

Please also read: Herniated disc of the cervical spine


MS, short for multiple sclerosis, is a disease in the brain. In different regions in the brain, the insulation of the nerve fibers is broken down and the nerve conduction speed is reduced.

Depending on the location in the brain, numbness in one arm can be the first symptom of MS. The symptoms of the disease usually begin in their mid-20s to mid-30s and affect more women than men. The disease cannot be cured, but it can be slowed down. MS is diagnosed through head imaging and blood and brain tests.

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If you feel numb in your arm, your doctor will first examine the common causes. During a physical examination, the doctor looks for other symptoms, such as tense muscles or other neurological abnormalities.

  • If a stroke or MS is suspected, the person is immediately sent to a hospital.
  • In the case of a herniated disc, imaging, i.e. a CT or X-ray, can be arranged.

MS is also diagnosed through imaging and laboratory tests. In the case of a stroke, a CT is done and therapy is started immediately.

Please also read: MRI Or CT - What's the Difference?

Which doctor treats this

When choosing a doctor, it depends on the cause of the numbness. For most of those affected, the family doctor is the first point of contact.

  • If a herniated disc is suspected, the person concerned is referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
  • MS, neuroboreliosis or a stroke are some of the diseases that neurologists continue to treat.
  • In the event of tension, the family doctor can often help himself or the person affected is prescribed massages or physiotherapy.
  • If the tension is triggered by chronic stress or is psychosomatic, a specialist in psychosomatic medicine can also help.

Other accompanying symptoms

With a herniated disc, the affected person often not only suffers from numbness, but also from pain in the cervical spine and head. Tense muscles are also possible. In the event of paralysis, a doctor must be consulted immediately.

In the case of a stroke, the leg on the same side is often also affected, and paralysis can also occur on one side of the face. Typical here are drooping corners of the mouth and a drooping eyelid. Language and eyesight can also be changed. This is an absolute emergency and should result in an emergency call.

Often one of the first symptoms of MS is deterioration in vision.

Also read: Stroke - What Are The Signs?

Back pain

The combination of back pain and a feeling of numbness in the arm is almost proof of an irritated nerve from a spinal disc or a tense muscle. The back pain is often aggravated when bending forward.

A hot water bottle often helps with tension, while disc patients often do not receive any relief from heat. For many sufferers, taking over-the-counter pain relievers does not help, or only for a very short time.

Neck pain

A herniated disc in the cervical spine, which leads to numbness in the arm, is usually accompanied by neck pain. Tension is also usually painful.

However, if the numbness and neck pain occur suddenly and in the company of a febrile infection, a doctor should be consulted immediately, as the symptoms can also occur due to meningitis. Meningitis is even more likely than a herniated disc, especially in children, as this is more of a disease in older people.

Please also read: Signs of meningitis

Treatment / therapy

  • In the case of tension, the supply of heat from a hot water bottle is often sufficient. For longer symptoms, a pain injection or massage can be prescribed and thus help the person affected.
  • A herniated disc does not usually recede that easily because it is a wear and tear on the disc. An improvement in symptoms can be achieved with pain relievers and physiotherapy. However, for some people, surgery on the disc is the only way to help.
  • When you have a stroke, therapy is about time. The sooner treatment starts, the greater the likelihood that the numbness and all other symptoms will go away. The blocked blood vessel can be opened with medication or the blockage can be removed with a catheter through the groin. Surgery is required for a bloody stroke.
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  • Antibiotic therapy is required for neuroboreliosis or meningitis.
  • Multiple sclerosis is treated with drugs such as cortisol and beta interferon, but there is no cure. The therapy is divided into basic therapy and relapse therapy.
    Also read: Therapy of multiple sclerosis


How long numbness lasts depends on the cause.

  • In the case of tension, the numbness is over as soon as the pressure on the nerve subsides.
  • Herniated discs often last significantly longer. Even after surgery, an area of ​​the skin may remain numb.
  • In the case of strokes, early treatment is important. With timely treatment, the symptoms can go away immediately.
  • In MS, the numbness usually lasts for a few days and then disappears again until the next episode, which can, however, also affect other parts of the body.


Tension is usually a completely regressive disease. Those affected often have to struggle with a herniated disc for many years. Neuroboreliosis or meningitis must be treated quickly and can either heal completely or, in extreme cases, be fatal. MS is a chronic, progressive disease that cannot be cured. Since there are different forms of MS, it cannot be clearly stated how long people can live independently.