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Almost everyone can think of a time when they felt tingling in the nerves of their hands, feet or toes.  This sensation was most a reaction to cold stimuli, such as a cold pool or brisk weather, and is completely normal. Patients often worry that this sensation, which can feel abnormal, may be related to a more serious health issue.  On rare occasions it is, in which sharing your experience with your physician is always important in determining the cause.

Jessica was a 30-year-old woman and a first time patient whom initially came to see me for an annual physical. In her exam I found that all of her health vitals were completely normal and she complained of no serious symptoms in my sequence of questioning.  At the end of our exam she did make one comment- she had been frequently experiencing tingling sensations down her leg and in her feet.  Jessica said she had been ignoring the sensation for months, but thought it was worth mentioning, as she was a bit concerned at times.

On some occasions tingling in the extremities can be a sign of health issues.  When these sensations come on a regular basis without cold stimuli I immediately look for a patient to do further testing.  Most frequently abnormal tingling can be related to a pinched nerve in the neck or lower back- especially when the sensation runs all the way down the arm or lower back.   A ruptured disk or bone spur can result in a pinched nerve, in which ones sensitivity can be compared to constantly hitting their funny bone.  When I suspect a pinched nerve I usually refer a patient to a neurologist or orthopedist, which was the case with Jessica.

After receiving an MRI it was confirmed that Jessica did have a pinched nerve in her lower back from a ruptured disk. There are a variety of factors that result in a ruptured disk, which include gender (high frequency in men), improper lifting, weight, physically demanding jobs, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and frequent driving.  Avoiding over-exertion of the lower back, engaging in exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can all help in avoiding a ruptured disk.

Having a ruptured disk, which is also referred to as a herniated disk, is a health issue that is most often easily resolved.  More than 90% of patients who have a herniated disc will improve within six months after nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical treatments usually involve rest, anti-inflammatory medications and special exercises to reduce pain and strengthen the lower muscles.

Although tingling sensations are usually normal, taking note of abnormal occurrences is important.  In Jessica’s case it was something that was easily resolved, but in rare cases can be a symptom of something more serious.

A tingly sensation in the extremities can be a sign of type 2 diabetes, though usually this symptom only occurs once the disease has progressed.   It can also be a sign of an impending heart attack, which would be accompanied by another symptom, such as chest pressure, nausea or loss of breath.