Facebook Pixel

Why Would Numbness in My Arm or Leg Have Anything to Do With the Spine?

arm numbnessTingling or numbness in the arm or leg can often be related to the spine because of the way the spinal nerves function.  What follows is a brief explanation of how this all works.

The spinal cord is a major part of the central nervous system, and it carries nerve signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae (the bones making up the spine). These nerves are responsible for transmitting sensory and motor signals to various parts of the body, including the arms and legs. If these nerve roots are compressed or irritated, it can affect the signals being sent to the arms or legs. This can happen due to various reasons like herniated discs, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), bone spurs, or inflammation.

Symptoms of Nerve Compression:

When these nerves are compressed or irritated, it can lead to symptoms like tingling and numbness, as well as pain, or weakness in the areas of the body that the nerve supplies. For example, a problem in the cervical spine (neck region) can cause symptoms in the arms and hands, while an issue in the lumbar spine (lower back) can cause symptoms in the legs and feet.

Sometimes, the sensation can be referred, meaning the pain or tingling is felt in a different location than the actual site of the problem. This is due to the complex way in which nerves transmit signals.

Other Conditions:

Besides direct nerve compression, other conditions like poor circulation, diabetes, or systemic diseases can also cause tingling and numbness. However, the spine is a common source due to its direct link to the nervous system and the limbs.

How Do I Know Know If the Numbness is Serious?

Determining whether numbness in your arms or legs is serious and warrants immediate medical attention involves considering several factors:

  • Suddenness and Duration: If the numbness or tingling comes on suddenly, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like weakness or paralysis, it could indicate a serious condition, such as a stroke or spinal cord injury.
  • Pattern and Area Affected: If the numbness is in both arms and legs simultaneously, it could suggest a more serious central nervous system issue. Conversely, numbness isolated to one limb could indicate a localized nerve compression.

You should also pay attention to other symptoms that accompany the numbness. These can include:

  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Confusion or altered consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing

Also, consider these three factors:

  1. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or cardiovascular disease, may be more prone to serious nerve-related issues.
  2. If you’ve recently experienced an injury, especially to your head, neck, or back, and then develop numbness, this could indicate a spinal injury or concussion.
  3. If the numbness is worsening over time, spreading to other parts of the body, or becoming increasingly severe, it’s important to seek medical attention.


If you’re experiencing persistent, worsening, or unexplained numbness in your arms or legs, especially if it’s accompanied by the symptoms mentioned above, it’s important to seek medical advice promptly. In emergency situations, such as a suspected stroke or spinal injury, immediate medical attention is crucial.

*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery