What might be behind my right arm and leg feeling numb?
January 5, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe

YANMD (and I am going to see one): Numbness in right arm and leg? No shooting pains, and I can use them both, but there's a general feeling of limbs falling asleep.

I've been feeling weird numbness in my right arm and leg for over 1 week now.

It's not tingling and there are no shooting pains. I can use both of the limbs just fine, and my speech doesn't feel slurred. It's the feeling of "this arm/leg feels like it's falling asleep, and it's just going to be a numb piece of meat if I don't shake it a little."

I did sit in front of the computer a lot over November and December, and we were snowed in over Christmas vacation and wound up sitting even more (I was sitting on the floor when I first noticed it - my right leg feeling like it was falling asleep faster than my left). But now I'm back into moving around a bit more, and the numbness hasn't subsided.

I got a session of massage therapy on Sunday, and it felt like a temporary help, but it might've just been because the limbs were rubbed a bit. The numbness actually feels like it's getting worse - both the arm and leg feel more distant, tight, and meaty, maybe even like the leg might buckle under me in time. (It might be my anxiety, but sometimes it also feels like the numbness is in my right buttock and the right side of my neck, too.) I try stretching and walking around, but they don't help.

I've got a doctor's appointment this afternoon and another massage therapy session booked, but I was wondering if anyone else has run into stuff like this before and has any specific suggestions. Thanks!
posted by cadge to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My suggestion is that if your doctor for whatever reason doesn't take this complaint seriously and send you immediately to get imaging of your head and neck, I would get an urgent second opinion (at an ER if necesessary). And skip the massage, especially if it involves any manipulation of your neck/back until this gets sorted out.
posted by drpynchon at 8:01 AM on January 5, 2010

I hate to suggest this, but numbness in limbs is a symptom of multiple sclerosis. That was the first symptom I had, and I think probably the doctor will suggest that as a possible diagnosis. (Vision problems also are an early sign.) So if the numbness doesn't go away, or does but you get some other weird thing, you might ask for a referral to a neurologist. The earlier MS is treated, the better the prognosis.

Good news-- there are lots of medications that help slow (not cure) MS. And there are great treatments coming up in the next few years. Also, symptoms (especially early ones) tend to intensify and then disappear (I lost sight in one eye, and then got it back, and never had another problem with vision).

But you know, make sure your insurance is in force and will cover this. Once you receive a diagnosis (I know, alas), you have a "pre-existing condition," and because MS is chronic, lifelong, and expensive-- my medicine is $2K a month, and insurance doesn't cover it-- most insurers don't want MS patients. So this is probably not a great time to quit your job. :)

I'm pretty sure there's nothing seriously wrong-- numbness is more often, as you indicate, the result of sitting around too much! But the doctor can rule out MS and make you feel better quick.
posted by pippin at 8:01 AM on January 5, 2010

Do you have any tingling in the areas? Could be pinched nerves. Let us know the outcome.
posted by bunny hugger at 8:07 AM on January 5, 2010

Some years ago I had similiar symptoms, though mine were on both sides of my body. I had tests and whatnot to rule out a vitamin B12 deficiency, MS and Guillain-Barré syndrome and a pinched nerve. After blood tests, a spinal tap and a brain/neck MRI nothing abnormal was found and eventually the symptoms went away. Very mysterious!
posted by Pineapplicious at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've cancelled the massage therapy appointment. I'm worried that it might be MS, too, but that's also my hypochondria playing up!
posted by cadge at 8:21 AM on January 5, 2010

I have had similar sensations in my left leg for a while now and I go to physiotherapy for it. They said I had a pinched nerve behind my knee. Apparently it will go away with specific exercises/stretches, so it is not too serious. Still, physio is a good idea for issues like this, and often less expensive than other forms of help - mine is around $30 a session. If they can address your problem, it is worth it!
posted by hepta at 8:25 AM on January 5, 2010

It is *very* important to get this checked out, but just so you don't feel too anxious: I have had this exact same thing for a whole year: periodic numbness or heaviness in my left limbs. I had an MRI and it ruled out MS and a stroke. One of the things they worried about was a TIA, which is really important to diagnose because it could indicate a stroke's coming soon. But fwiw, in my case, it was simply one of those mysteries of the body that (I hope) remains medically insignificant.
posted by fullofragerie at 8:34 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't want to discourage you from getting this checked out.

But at the same time, no need to panic. I could have written this ask.me 6 months ago. It was after an extended period of working in an uncomfortable chair. My legs felt, well, not fully there for a week or two afterwards just as you describe. I was getting a bit worried then it all just went away with walking, better movement etc. Hasn't returned.
posted by vacapinta at 8:40 AM on January 5, 2010

You could have anemia. I had a little tingling in my legs a few years ago, but once I had more iron in my system (presumably to carry to the blood to where it needed to go), it went away.
posted by Melismata at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2010

I encourage you to get this checked out, as it *could* be various unpleasant things like MS. However, I second the mentions of posture and pinched nerves. I had the same thing happen with my right hand & arm, and it turned out to be caused by the combination of sitting in the same (poor) working position with my laptop for several days and severe muscle tension. My layman's guess is that both created pressure on the nerve somewhere along the pathway, and lo: numb (or painful) arm. Be cautious, but don't panic.
posted by tigerbelly at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2010

Response by poster: UPDATE: I met with the doctor, and the reaction was essentially "Maaan, these symptoms are so vague ... numbness could be a lot of things."

There's no numbness in my left side ... I'm not feeling much numbness in my fingers and toes ... no shooting pains ... no clumsiness or falling or slurred speech ... it's both the arm and leg ... I could feel all of the doctor's test scrapes/tickles/vibrations. All of these things made it hard to point to any specific cause.

What's weird is that I feel it more in the meat of the limbs, like the thigh and upper arm and forearm, NOT the fingers and toes. Like those areas need rubbing to get the circulation going again.

I had blood labs done, and the doctor said to call back if anything gets worse.

Thanks for all of your advice and comments! They've been really helpful to keep perspective and not just flip out.
posted by cadge at 2:04 PM on January 5, 2010

Was this a general practitioner? Did s/he mention the possibility of seeing a neurologist or getting imaging done? I would take seriously the suggestion of calling back if anything gets worse, and I would also urgently seek a second opinion. One-sided numbness in the arm and leg is not a pinched nerve, it's something that could be coming from farther up, like in your head. This is not something you want to mess with. The more serious of the serious things that could be causing this are better if caught earlier. Don't panic, but rule out the serious stuff before you relax. Here's hoping it's nothing.
posted by jennyjenny at 3:43 PM on January 5, 2010

Response by poster: The appointment was with a GP (and unfortunately not my regular PCP), and imaging or neurology referrals came up as a possible next step ... I think I should've been more assertive about pursuing with those right away, though. :(

I talked with a nurse friend this evening; I'm going to see how the symptoms are doing tomorrow and then be more vocal about getting imaging done ASAP if the labs come back normal.
posted by cadge at 7:40 PM on January 5, 2010

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