My arm, it's asleep and annoying me
July 22, 2004 1:16 PM   Subscribe

is it normal for your arm to be partially asleep for an extended period of time? i think i slept on it or something, now 6-7 hours later I only have partial feeling in my hand and I can't flex my arm muscles very much. It's very annoying.
posted by bob sarabia to Health & Fitness (23 answers total)
Well, weirder things have been known to happen--if you've ever pinched a nerve in your neck or back, you know that that sensation can be caused by inflammation, and it won't go away until the inflammation goes down. Could take a couple of days. (With that in mind, you might try an anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofen and see if that helps.)

If it lasts more than a couple of days, though, I'd seriously get it looked at, since you could be looking at somethng more serious, like:

1) Real nerve damage. (When I was 7 or 8, I was fighting with my sister, and she bit the base of my thumb so hard that she must have crushed a nerve--it was numb, more or less, for several years before I finally got full feeling back on the outside edge of my thumb.)

2) Some kind of more acute "pinching" condition akin to carpal tunnel syndrome, where you might have some kind of structural thing going on. Something like that could mean surgery to correct, or it could require physical therapy, or it could be something as simple as changing how your chair and desk are arranged.

I'm not trying to be alarmist--if it's not just a "pinched nerve", it's probably fixable, but at that point, you'd have to do something about it, and not just wait for it to get better.
posted by LairBob at 2:01 PM on July 22, 2004

I don't believe it's normal for it to stay in a state of "sleep" for that long, but I am not a doctor. However I do something similar. Because of the way I sleep I often wake up in the mornings with NO feeling in my arm at all. It's really very eerie because it feels like dead skin, or like I'm touching someone elses arm.

My remedy is hanging it over the edge of the bed and letting all the blood rush, and i do mean RUSH, back in. Going from being able to feel nothing in your arm to being able to feel EVERY CELL is quite an intense experience.

To anyone who is a doctor, is this dangerous? Will I one day wake up and have to amputate?
posted by untuckedshirts at 2:03 PM on July 22, 2004

I've done it a couple of times when I slept too soundly and my arm happened to be trapped. It goes away but it is disconcerting.
posted by substrate at 2:10 PM on July 22, 2004

I suffer from the same thing untucked - only with the pinkie fingers of each hand. I have no idea why it happens (I really hope I'm not doing something incredibly strange in my sleep).

I've a sneaking suspicion that it has something to do with carpal tunnel issues . . .
posted by aladfar at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2004

Which arm is it?

A numb arm can be a symptom of other things. Me, I'd go to a doctor. But I'm paranoid like that.
posted by frykitty at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2004

IANAD: there's a condition called "Saturday Night Paralysis" that can be permanent -- if someone who's very drunk falls asleep with their arm (for example) over the back of a chair, they can wake up with that arm permanently damaged.

...the alcohol plays a role by preventing the person from waking up (as they normally might) when their arm starts to seriously complain about the lack of blood.

A friend of mine almost had this happen to both his legs -- he couldn't walk right for an entire day. He subsequently made sure he never passed out on his couch ever again.

So my guess: if you still have problems tomorrow, see a doctor. Otherwise it's just one of those things that happens occasionally. Are you sleeping on a new (hard) bed?
posted by aramaic at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2004

Response by poster: I was really drunk last night but I passed out on my futon where I normally sleep. It's my right arm. also, I took some ibuprofen like lairbob suggested
posted by bob sarabia at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2004

If you've inflamed tissue in the joints, the swelling might be what's pinching the nerve, and swelling doesn't always go away swiftly. I don't know if it's the same part of your arm that relates to working at a computer all day, but this might just be nerve damage you already had coming to the surface and becoming noticeable. Are you already at risk for repetitive stress, etc, in your arms? Something to think about.

This can be innocuous, totally curable with proper relaxation and exercises. It might go away tomorrow and never come back. Or it might be something serious you need checked out. But I personally have never had simple loss-of-circulation or "falling asleep" persist in any of my limbs for more than 5 or 10 minutes.

I suggest some massage, stretching, proper rest, a good meal, an ibuprofen, and a rapid visit to the doctor if it hasn't cleared up by tomorrow.
posted by scarabic at 2:22 PM on July 22, 2004

this happened to the bassist in my band, a few years back...

we were watching lord of the rings, him with his new girlfriend. she fell asleep on his shoulder/arm and he was too nice to wake her up. 3 hours later, he had no feeling in two of his fingers. it didn't come back for 4 months and we had to cancel a truck-load of gigs.

all the doctor advised at the time was that it *should* come back. hopefully.

i'd go and have it checked out, for safety's sake.
posted by triv at 2:34 PM on July 22, 2004

Response by poster: Well I do sit at a computer all day long, literally, since it's between semesters and I an introvert. The numbness is pretty bad in my thumb and radiating ourward from it, as well my forearm and bicep.

Do you think it's ok to do an arm workout with freeweights tonight? I seem to have control over my hand and arm semi-well.
posted by bob sarabia at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2004

Response by poster: well scratch that last comment, I can't do curls at all with that arm. I could barely lift 15 pounds
posted by bob sarabia at 3:12 PM on July 22, 2004

Phew, the right arm.

If it's ever the left, you should see a doctor immediately. It's a possible sign of a VERY soon to happen heartattack.
posted by shepd at 3:24 PM on July 22, 2004

I had this happen to me a few years back. I fell asleep after work, woke up and my arm stayed asleep. For hours. I went to sleep that night with my arm still asleep and woke up the next morning and it had moved from my arm to specific spots. My torso felt like it was asleep at times. When I used the restroom my unit felt like it was asleep. I was involved in a job where I needed dextrous use of my hands, and it was impossible when my hands were completely numb.

So I went to a doctor, they took X-Rays to see if I had pinched a nerve in my neck. It was inconclusive. I was given anti-imflammatory's to alleviate any possible swelling. The 'asleep' feeling continued for next to a month severly affected after the pills.

During this time I was using ecstasy pretty regularly and heavily. So I stopped this alltogether and the severe numbness stopped. This may not be your case, but you never know.

I unfortunatley have times where I will have a prolonged numbness somewhere. While going to bed I sometimes feel my GF moving next to me, but can't tell exactley what it is she's doing or where I'm being touched or with what amount of pressure without investigating it. Then the numbness subsides.
posted by mnology at 3:49 PM on July 22, 2004

If you sit at a computer all day, and the numbness is in your hands, then the odds of it being some kind of repetitive stress goes up enormously. (RS is not just carpal tunnel--it can happen in your back, your shoulder, your neck, and because those are near where the nerves radiate from your spine, the effect can be far off from where the actual problem is. It's not uncommon to have a burning sensation between your shoulder blades, for example, and have that inflammation cause numbness in your hands.)

If a lot of that time "in front of the computer" is really spent doing something rigid and repetitive, like say, GAMING, then it's almost guaranteed to be RS-related.

If you game, and the stiffness is in your mouse hand, then you now basically know what's wrong.

You need to make sure you're not slumping, that the edge of the desk isn't cutting across your forearms, that you're not constantly clenching your upper back as you chase the bastard with the flag into their base, etc.

More importantly, not to preach, but you need to get more active. When you're sedentary in a fixed position for long times, your circulation is just not going to clear out the various acids (lactic, etc.) that are building up in your muscles, and that's one of the root causes of stiffness and inflammation. At your desk, start using some kind of little hand-exercisers, etc., and then make sure you're getting up and walking, running, biking, whatever it takes to get your circulation up and moving through the muscles. (Again, I'm not saying this as a reproach, but as someone who's learned this for himself. It doesn't mean becoming an exercise freak--it really means making sure you're active enough not to basically freeze your body into one position.)
posted by LairBob at 4:03 PM on July 22, 2004

Sounds like it's something in your brachial plexus, if it's both the cutaneous skin on your thumb as well as your biceps muscle--the former is innervated by the median nerve; the latter, the musculocutaneous.

Then again, I only know textbook knowledge; I have zero clinical exposure thus far.
posted by gramcracker at 4:31 PM on July 22, 2004

Oops--sorry, didn't see your mention of working out tonight, only the part about sitting at the computer a lot.

If you're lifting weights, you've obviously got that "active" part covered, but you definitely want to look at your posture while you're sitting, your chair/desk height, and anything else about how you sit while you work that might be contributing to some kind of RS.
posted by LairBob at 5:08 PM on July 22, 2004

I'm sure I've mentioned this amusing story before, but, hey, I like telling it.

I once fell asleep on my waterbed, lying on my front, with my arms crossed underneath me, and my legs also crossed.

When I woke up I nearly punched my own lights out as I rolled over and my useless arms were flung about. I somehow managed to get to the edge of the bed, stand up, and take two steps. That's when the legs gave in.

I fell forward, still half asleep, unable to use my arms. Ooof.

It's a wonder I didn't break my face.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:40 PM on July 22, 2004 [1 favorite]

fff, that's hilarious. My own worst "limbs asleep" story actually took place in front of a room of adult students. I was conducting a summer CS course for other teachers, so it was an all-day thing, and I spent about an hour pontificating from my chair, with my feet up on my desk. Without realizing it, my legs had gone _dead_ asleep, and when I went to stand up, I just *flump* disappeared behind my desk.

Spent the next five minutes trying to restore my dignity (I was 24, and most of my students were 30+), not scream from pins and needles, and contain my own laughter. (The class, needless, to say found it hilarious--and thankfully, pretty forgiving.)
posted by LairBob at 5:01 AM on July 23, 2004

The hit song "Nice to Know You" by Incubus is about this very phenomenon. The left-handed lead singer lost feeling in his hand, and wrote this song with his right hand as he was learning to adapt.

I haven't felt the way I feel today
In so long it's hard for me to specify
I'm beginning to notice how much this feels
Like a waking limb, pins and needles

Nice to know you, goodbye

He thought his career was over, but instead the incident provided the inspiration for a hit record. He also eventually recovered. Not very helpful, I know, but maybe you can take some inspiration from this story, or something.
posted by ChasFile at 8:31 AM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: My situation is a little better today which leads me to believe it should subside in a few days tops. I can flex my bicep and curl almost normal weight now. I still can't feel my thumb though.
posted by bob sarabia at 2:02 PM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: oh by the way, lairbob, it's like you've been watching me or something as you described me exactly...besides the weight lifting thing. I need to start running again.
posted by bob sarabia at 2:06 PM on July 23, 2004 psychic powers. The symptoms just seemed very familiar, let's put it that way. Good luck.
posted by LairBob at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2004

Posting very late here, but I wanted to point out that if you've recently started lifting weights, that might be related.
posted by callmejay at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2004

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