‘Pins and needles’ is that horrible sensation you get, usually in a leg or arm, which does feel like you are being jabbed with thousands of small needles (or pins). It is usually accompanied by numbness, or as numbness is starting to subsite, and in some circumstances can be quite painful. So in this article, I’ll explain what causes it.
Nerves throughout your body fire throughout the day, and this is how you can ‘feel’ your arm or leg without touching it. These nerves require a constant supply of nutrients from the blood, particularly oxygen and glucose to continue to fire. When you sit in a funny position, you can apply pressure to blood vessels which reduces blood flow to a part of the body (usually an arm or leg). This reduction of blood flow reduces the amount of glucose and oxygen which reach this part of the body, eventually starving nerve cells of these nutrients. At this point your limb will’fall asleep’, which means that the nerves in that area are not longer able to fire. The nerve still wants to be firing as normal, and these impulses effectively queue up.
At this point, pins and needles are unavoidable.
When you remove the pressure/ move position you restore blood flow the nerves. As the nerves recover they are hyperactive and irritable, and continuously fire to release the backlog of nerve impulses, and it is this continuous firing of nerve signals is what we feel as pins and needles. This is where the limb ‘wakes up’, and the longer the blood flow has been restricted to the limb results in an increase in the pins and needles sensation. If the blood flow has been restricted for a long time, then it could be painful!
Generally, pins and needles are a good thing, and indicates that blood flow is being restored back to a part of the body, and the sensation lasts a short period of time. However, continuous/ prolonged pins and needles, or experiencing it when blood flow isn’t restricted to an area could indicate some illness, the most common being diabetes. So if you experience pins and needles when you think you shouldn’t, then it could be a worrying sign, and isn’t caused by reduced blood flow in the way explained above.
‘Pins and needles’ is usually caused by restricting blood flow to nerves, which causes them to lose the ability to send signals. This results in a part of the body going numb, and is often said to ‘go dead’ or ‘go to sleep’. When blood flow is restored to the nerves, they are very irritated and hyperactive, which causes them to continually fire signals to the brain whilst the part of the body ‘wakes up’.
The feeling of pins and needles is very common, and should be short lasting – generally it is nothing to worry about. However if you experience pins and needles for long periods of time, or when you think you shouldn’t, it could indicate an underlying or developing illness, the most common of which being diabetes.
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When blood is cut off from a part of the body, the nerves will be started of nutrients such as glucose. When blood is restores, all the nerve signals which the nerves wanted to send all of a sudden get sent all at once, which give the sensation of pins and needles.