Numbness is a loss of feeling or sensation in an area of the body. It can be complete or partial. It is usually a sign of a problem with nerves in the body, although it is a common symptom of many different medical conditions.
Most cases of numbness are not serious. In more severe cases, it causes complications related to not feeling pain (for example, causing burns if unable to feel the pain from high heat) or being unaware of what’s happening to parts of the body (for example, falling if unable to feel the position of one’s feet). It can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis.
Numbness has many possible causes. A problem with a nerve or nerves usually causes the symptom. When a nerve is damaged or compressed, it interferes with the body’s ability to feel normal sensations.
Some cases of numbness involve abnormal pressure on the nerves in and around the spine. Conditions that may cause this numbness include:
Other medical conditions that may cause numbness include:
Doctors diagnose numbness based on your symptoms, medical history and a physical exam (testing touch, temperature, reflexes and muscle function). Your doctor will ask you about the affected body part(s) and to describe the numbness. Other questions will include when the numbness started, how quickly the numbness began, the events or activities you were engaged in around the time the numbness began, and if you have any other symptoms. Answers to these questions helps your doctor determine the cause of the numbness.
Tests to identify the disorder causing numbness include:
Treatment for numbness varies according to the cause. The goal of treatment is to correct the condition causing the numbness. Your doctor will determine the best treatment for you based on the underlying condition and the nerves involved. Some common treatments for numbness include:
Because the causes of numbness vary greatly, some cases require more urgent medical care than others. Seek emergency medical attention if numbness is accompanied by:
Also seek emergency care if:
Most cases of numbness are less urgent, but a doctor should still assess them. Contact your doctor if numbness:
© Copyright 1995-2020 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 01/29/2019