Is the prickly sensation in my arm serious?

Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012

Q: I am a 62-year-old woman. When I work on my computer, I frequently experience a prickly sensation that runs all the way down from my upper left arm to my hand.  It feels like many needles are poking into my hand. The sensation does not go away even when I sit up straight. My sister told me it is due to the degeneration of the spinal bone in the neck, causing the bone to sit on the nerve.

Is it serious? How and where can I get this cured without burning a hole in my pocket? Will taking vitamin B help?

What sinseh says...

In TCM, a prickly sensation in the arms and hands is probably due to deficiency in the function of the liver and kidneys.

The liver governs the tendons. When blood in the liver is insufficient and fails to nourish the tendons, the patient may experience symptoms such as tremors of the hands or feet, numbness of the limbs, or difficulty in flexing and extending the limbs.

The kidneys produce marrow and control the bones. When the kidneys are weak due to ageing and chronic illnesses, the skeletal system will be weakened.

In TCM, coldness-linked yin and heat-linked yang in the body have to be balanced for good health. Insufficient yin in the liver and kidneys will trigger numbness of the shoulders and neck, shrivelling of the muscles of the hands and feet, and imbalance when walking.

When the body is weak and has insufficient qi and blood to nourish the neck, it will trigger chronic pain, numbness of the upper limbs and finger tips, and a pale complexion.

When the immune system is weak, disease-causing factors such as "wind", "cold" and "dampness" can invade the neck and result in limited movement of the neck and spasms of the neck muscles.

Injuries, including those from overstraining and having a bad posture, and degeneration of the spine in the neck can weaken qi and blood circulation.

Qi and blood may then stagnate in the meridians (channels for qi and blood), triggering severe, pricking-like pain and numbness in the neck, shoulder, back and the upper limbs; and a lack of strength in the limbs for a prolonged period.

Chinese medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping and tuina (TCM massage) can help to improve your condition by strengthening your organs and dispelling the disease-causing factors.

Moxibustion involves burning a small herb above acupuncture points to help healing. Cupping involves using fire and cups to create a vacuum on the skin to enhance blood and qi circulation.

Chinese medicine, such as processed rehmannia root, tree peony bark, common yam rhizome, Chinese taxillus herb and desertliving cistanche, are used to strengthen the liver and kidneys.

Milkvetch root, Chinese angelica, white peony root, fleeceflower root, Sichuan lovage rhizome and suberect spatholobus stem increase qi and blood.

Danshen root, sanqi, peach seed, safflower, ground dragon, scorpion and centipede enhance blood circulation.

Incised notopterygium rhizome, double teeth pubescent angelica root, divaricate saposhnikovia root and kudzu vine root dispel "wind" and "cold".

Ensure that you have a good sitting posture when you use your computer. Your seat should be at a height that puts your thighs parallel to the floor. You should do some neck stretching exercises every 30 minutes after using the computer.

Keep your neck and shoulders warm and avoid having a fan or air-conditioning blow directly at you. Massaging your neck and shoulders helps improve blood circulation.

Abstain from cold drinks and raw and oily food as these will weaken blood circpulation and create more pain.

Ms Lim Lay Beng
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic

What the doctor says

Nerve compression leads to feeling of pins and needles

The doctor says...

Your sister is probably correct. Your symptoms sound like those of nerve compression.

The most common location of nerve compression in patients with “pins and needles” in their hands is at the wrist. In this case, the condition is called carpal tunnel syndrome. But if, as in your case, the symptoms run down from the upper arm into your hand, then the location of the nerve compression is likely to be the cervical (neck) spine.

The main problem is degeneration of the bones and the discs in your cervical spine. This sometimes causes bulging of the discs and, sometimes bone spurs form.

The bulging discs and bone spurs press against the nerve that runs to the arm, causing your symptoms.

This condition can be confirmed through a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.

Management of the condition requires a combination of vitamin B complex with occasional pain medication and physiotherapy.

For some people, surgery may also be required.

This condition can be serious but it threatens a person’s lifestyle rather than his life.

The most economical way to manage this is to go to a polyclinic which can then refer you to a relevant restructured hospital.

The fastest way to manage it is probably to see an orthopaedic specialist in private practice.

Dr Lim Lian Arn
Consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Alpha Joints & Orthopaedics at Gleneagles Medical Centre