It feels like a thousand tiny pinpricks in your skin (but in a nice way), after a wiggle and a shake, they usually just disappear straight away.
Symptoms of pins and needles:
Prickling and tingling sensation.
Return of normal feeling a few minutes after changing position.
But what actually causes this strange sensation?
Everyone has experienced that feeling in your hands and feet we call “pins and needles”, it feels like someone is sticking loads of little pins in our hands and feet when we’ve been sat down for too long. Your skin goes a bit numb and sometimes it can be slightly uncomfortable to put weight on your feet when you have pins and needles. It’s never painful, and rarely even uncomfortable, it’s just a strange feeling, isn’t it!
If you wait a couple of minutes and shake off your numb limb you usually find that the pins and needles go straight away and the sharp piercing sensation finally disappears.
The sensation itself is called “paresthesia” and the temporary feeling we get is called ” temporary paresthesia”. So what is actually going on under our skin? Well, it’s relatively simple really…
There are nerves throughout our body that send signals from our limbs to our brain so when we apply to much pressure to a limb (like when we sit on one of our legs funny or when we fall asleep on our arm) we end up trapping the nerve a little bit and we’re also putting a little bit too much pressure on the blood vessels (which isn’t good) that supply those nerves. It’s like standing on a garden hose and stopping the water passing through it.
This deprives your brain of getting the information it expects from your nerve endings as well as depriving the nerves of oxygenated blood. So when that pressure is relieved, blood flows back into the limb and gives your body a little shock, so the nerves begin firing messages to and from the brain.
A pair of Oxford University students did some research on a handful of candidates to find out what actually causes the pins and needles sensation. All they did was wrap a blood pressure cuff around a patient’s arm that was set higher than their systolic blood pressure.
They started one or two minutes after the pressure was applied and the test lasted around three or four minutes. Patients described it as “a faint comfortable soda-water sensation”, or as “buzzing,” or “a fine light tingle.” Some felt as if they had “ants running up and down inside the skin.”
The second stage which started 10 minutes later was described as a “velvety numbness” that feeling lasted as long as the pressure was applied and the blood supply remained.
When the pressure is relieved the patients enter the third stage which is known as “release pricking”.
Oxford psychologist noted: “the intensity and number of the pricks depend on the length of nerve which is recovering from any fixed period of depressed blood supply…no [particular] part of a nerve is particularly concerned in generating the impulses which give rise to this form of ‘pins and needles’.”
Paresthesia can often occur after being given local anaesthetic during medical/dental work. No one’s entirely sure why it happens but scientists think it could be that the needle damages the nerve which causes temporary paresthesia.
The longest case of paresthesia in someone’s mouth was 736 days, that over two years having pins and needles in their tongue. Can you imagine how annoying that must have been?
It’s not only medication that can deliver paresthesia in the mouth, peppers and chillis can cause the mild prickling sensation in small doses. Schezuan peppers contain compounds like alkylamines, which deliver a tingling sensation to the area which causes the pins and needles. It’s such a predictable effect, that in some places in the world, peppers have been used as anaesthetic. In some communities, the plants are known as “toothache trees”.
Pins and needles can be annoying sometimes, but just remember, they happen for a reason!
Most commonly affected areas:
When you should be concerned.
Generally, pins and needles are nothing to be worried about. Pins and needles can be a sign of nerve problems, an overstressed lifestyle or even in some cases, mild carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, if your pins and needles with a headache, weakness or weight loss, they could be a sign of something else and if pins and needles are prolonged you should go and see your GP.