Tips for Diagnosing Numbness in Your Right Arm
Waking up in the night with a lack of sensation in a limb is something that just about everyone has experienced, but experiencing numbness in your right arm, especially frequently or suddenly, can be a signal that something is not right. Knowing when to be concerned can actually save your life.
Sensation transmission in the body
The human body is truly a remarkable thing. A veritable network of complex nerves intertwines throughout the body, carrying and exchanging information between our skin and the brain. All nerves that involve the arms, hands and fingers interact with the spinal cord of the neck. Rapid transmission of information enables us to feel something one moment and instantaneously have the sensation recognized and identified by the brain. The sensation may include pain or pleasure, heat or cold.
There are situations when the transmission of the nerves is interrupted or disrupted. A number of different causes can attribute to the abnormal sensations that result from such conditions. These sensations could be a tingling or “needles & pins” feeling or even a total lack of feeling, such as numbness. In many cases, the results are temporary and without cause for alarm. In others, the unusual sensations may indicate that a more serious and potentially dangerous condition exists.
We have all experienced the familiar tingly sensation that is felt upon waking after our head has rested on our arm for an extended period of time. This is caused by compressing the radial nerve, which is the major nerve that allows movement and feeling to certain areas of the arm and the hand. Because this nerve traverses from the shoulder down to the hands, there are many opportunities for the nerve to receive pressure and thereby interrupt its normal transmission to the brain. In addition, blood flow may have been constricted due to the same compression, preventing vital nutrients from reaching the nerve cells and cause additional confusion in their impulse transmissions. When this happens, jumbled messages are sent from the nerves to the brain, creating confusion and inaccurate responses. In other words, tingling results in the affected arm and perhaps extending into the hand.
When the tingling is caused by a temporary interruption such as falling asleep awkwardly or sustained positions of the arm that compress the nerves, normal flow of both blood and electrochemical nerve impulses commence once again. There may be a slight delay before the tingling fully ceases but generally normal sensations return within a few minutes.
Lack of sensation
Numbness in your right arm or left arm can also occur from compression of the radial nerve for extended periods, and actually probably account for the majority of cases. However, when the numbness persists or occurs frequently, there could be an underlying cause that may be of concern. Some of the conditions that can cause this lack of feeling are:
- Nerve damage occurs most often from injury or long term pressure to the nerves. Individuals who have suffered a broken humerus (upper arm bone) or scapula (shoulder blade) may have nerve damage as a consequence. People who must use crutches over a long period of time or use them improperly, or have compressed the nerve for many hours (in a deep sleep or coma) or have had the arm in an awkward position such as draped over the back of a chair while sitting and remained in that position for long periods, are also prone to developing nerve damage.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome is often thought to affect only the wrist and hands; however, the arms are also at risk for suffering pain and numbness. In your right arm, this may be a condition seen much more frequently since the number of right handed individuals far exceeds that of left handed individuals.
- Cervical disc syndrome is a condition that is often seen in victims of car accidents when the head is suddenly and forcefully thrust forward and backward.
- Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the nerve tissue in the spinal cord, brain or brainstem. Because the radial and ulnar nerves travel from the spinal cord through the shoulder and into the arm, multiple sclerosis victims are often afflicted with numbness in the right arm, left arm and each hand.
- Strokes affect a large number of people, both young and old, although older individuals are more prone for this debilitating and life threatening condition. One of the common symptoms is the lack of sensation occurring on one side of the body. A stroke occurs when a part of the brain is deprived of blood, oxygen and vital nutrients, resulting in the destruction of brain cells.
In all cases when numbness of the limbs becomes persistent, a diagnosis from a medical professional should be sought immediately. A detailed history of the occurrences, along with a thorough examination and testing, can determine the cause so that effective treatment can begin.
Though most cases of unusual or lack of sensation are temporary and non-threatening, knowing the cause of the numbness in your right arm when it occurs suddenly or frequently could very well save your life.