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Sunday, April 20, 2014
Numbness in arms upon awaking
I have slight numbness in both arms when I awake from sleep a few times during the night--what could this be a sign of?
Awakening from sleep with numbness in one or more extremities is unlikely to represent a primary sleep disorder, though this symptom may be the result of certain aspects of your sleep. The symptoms you describe, awakening with numbness in both arms, sound most consistent with a neurological or musculoskeletal problem.
There are a number of problems that can cause this type of symptom. The numbness could be the result of compressing nerve fibers in your neck, in an area known as the cervical spine. This type of problem can arise from arthritis or other bone abnormalities (such as degenerative disk disease or joint disease) or from scar tissue due to past trauma. These conditions can occur for a number of reasons with one of the more common settings being in people who work on computers for extended periods. Other possible causes of numbness in an extremity include compression of the nerves in the extremity (such as in carpal tunnel syndrome), diseases of the nerves themselves (such as in diabetic neuropathy) or impaired blood supply to the nerves of the extremities.
Based on the limited information you provided, it is hard to say which, if any of these, would be most likely to cause your problems. The fact that the symptoms occur upon awakening suggest that, perhaps, the position you sleep in could be contributing to your symptoms, though more information would be needed to help determine if this were the case.
To find out if you are suffering from one of the conditions mentioned above, you should seek a medical evaluation. Discussing your symptoms with your primary care physician would be a good place to start. Your primary care physician will ask you some questions and examine the area of concern to determine if further evaluation is needed or if a treatment plan can be instituted. Additional testing may include X-rays, nerve conduction studies, or MRI.
If you would like further information regarding sleep or sleep disorders, I recommend you consider visiting the website of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. This website contains information about sleep disorders as well as lists Sleep Centers around the country. Also, the website SleepEducation.com has plenty of useful information about sleep and sleep disorders. Good luck!
Dennis Auckley, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University