I usually start to feel it near the midpoint of my cardio workouts—a numb or tingling feeling in my hands. As far as inconveniences go, it’s pretty minor (only slightly more annoying than remembering midway through a workout that gray leggings are never a good idea). But tingling hands are still not something I want to deal with at the gym.
So, in the name of health journalism, I decided to talk to some experts and find out why this midworkout pins-and-needles sensation happens to me—and if there’s anything I can do to prevent it. Here’s what I learned.
Tingling or numbness in the hands is usually a sign that blood flow to the nerves is being blocked.
The countless nerves that run throughout our bodies are super sensitive, and the most sensitive of all are sensory nerves—the ones that give feeling. So even a slight change in blood supply to those nerves can impact what we feel, resulting in numbness and tingling (there’s an actual term for that feeling, by the way; it’s called “paresthesia”). “The most common cause for changes in blood supply to nerves in a healthy person is positional,” Jeffrey M. Gross, M.D., medical director at NYU Langone Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Associates, tells SELF. It’s the same reason your arm may get numb if you fall asleep on it—that position blocks blood supply to the nerves.
During any kind of cardio—running, using the elliptical, even vigorously walking—the arm is often bent at the elbow. That position forces the ulnar nerve (aka the “funny bone,” which yes, is actually a nerve), which runs along the inside of your forearm and down to your pinky and ring fingers, to stretch across the bone in your elbow. Stretching that nerve cuts off its blood supply, which in turn, makes your pinky and ring fingers feel tingly and numb. “Everyone’s anatomy is a little bit different, so some people are more prone to this than others,” says Dr. Gross.
Clenching or pumping your arms too aggressively midworkout can also contribute to the sensation.
“When people are limited for time or are stressed, they tend to make a tight fist and an aggressive pumping motion during exercise, which can make the tingling or numbness worse,” Alice Chen, M.D., a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, tells SELF. Clenching your hands into fists isn’t great running form anyway—letting them swing naturally by your side is better for momentum and helps you maintain proper trunk rotation as you move. Instead, relax your grip and imagine lightly holding something between your thumb and pointer finger. Concentrating on loosening your grip will also prevent you from pumping your arms too vigorously (which is a waste of energy), says Dr. Chen.
The spirit fingers approach works too—simply shaking your arms and hands out once they start to feel strange can help get the blood flowing properly again. The bottom line? “Change your form or position so your arms and hands aren’t stuck in the same place for too long,” Brittni Rohde, M.D., a sports neurology fellow at Michigan NeuroSport at the University of Michigan, tells SELF.
You may feel tingling and numbness in your feet too—it happens for a similar reason.
Exercising increases blood flow to your muscles, causing them to swell, says Dr. Gross. This muscle swelling is more common in the legs and feet during exercise because of gravity—the fluid in the lower body increases much more than the upper body. When your feet swell during a workout, they press against your sneakers and the nerves can become slightly compressed. Cue the numbness and tingling.
A tingling or numb sensation is more likely in a situation where your feet remain stationary, like when you’re using an elliptical machine, an arc trainer, or even a bike. “On the elliptical machine, your foot is swelling inside of your sneaker and not changing positions,” says Dr. Gross. That forces the swollen foot to hit against the inside of the sneaker more than if you were running, where the foot and sneaker are both moving.
If you’re doing something that requires movement and still feel tingling or numbness, it could also be an issue with your sneakers. If your shoes are too tight, or you lace them up too snugly, your foot doesn’t have room to expand, which can lead to that uncomfortable sensation.
Numbness during exercise is usually nothing to worry about, as long as it goes away.
“The tingling or numbness is benign as long as it goes away when you shake it out,” says Dr. Chen. But if the sensation lingers, doesn’t go away after you’ve stopped the activity, or gets worse, it could be a sign of a bigger issue like a pinched nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome, or even diabetes. And in very rare cases, persistent numbness that’s accompanied by muscle weakness could indicate something more serious like an underlying neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis—Dr. Gross suggests seeing your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing this.
But more often than not, in healthy people, it’s just a sign of a compressed nerve, and that feeling will go away once you shake it off. As for the health of your ego once your entire gym or running group watches you bring out the spirit fingers halfway through your workout? That’s not guaranteed, but it’s a hell of a lot more comfortable than dealing with pins and needles when you’re just trying to get in a good workout.
Source: Self.com | Not Affiliated with Aetrex Worldwide