Numbness of the fingers is usually caused by injury, irritation or compression of the nerves the supply the sensation to those fingers. These may be due to a prolapsed disc in the neck, wear and tear (arthritis) of the neck or a ‘pinched nerve’ in the neck. There can also be other general causes like diabetes or neurological conditions.
Is numbness of my fingers serious?
Numbness of the fingers on its own is not a very serious or a life threatening condition. If there is weakness of the fingers or if you finger numbness gets worse, it means there is a compression on the nerve to those fingers. Usually, there is associated pain in your neck or the pain travels down your arm and to the fingers.
Why is my neck pain connected to the numbness of my fingers?
The nerves that supply sensation to your fingers come from the tiny holes in the spine of your neck. As these nerves come out of these holes (foramen), they are likely to be compressed or pinched by a prolapsed disc. In older patients however, due to the long-term wear and tear changes in the neck (arthritis), these tiny holes (foramen) are narrowed and this can cause compression of the nerve. So, as you move your neck, these nerves are more likely to be irritated or compressed causing numbness in your fingers.
Will the numbness in my fingers go away on its own?
Occasionally, the muscles around the nerves coming out your neck can become tense and tight and press on the nerves. In that case, a gentle stretch or movements of the neck can relieve the tightness or spasm in those muscles and free the nerves. You will have temporary relief from the numbness in your fingers.
What happens if the numbness gets worse?
Whatever the reason, if the numbness in your finger gets worse it means that the pressure on the nerve is gradually increasing and the nerve will permanently lose its function. This means that it will not be able to move your fingers or your hand. At this stage, it may be not possible to recover the function fully.
Why do I see a Spine Surgeon?
If your numbness gets worse over a short period of time with weakness, it is better to seek urgent help. Spine Surgeons are well trained to identify the cause of your numbness by asking simple questions. This is followed by a thorough clinical examination to confirm the cause and nature of the problem. You will need an MRI scan.
What does the MRI scan show?
MRI scan is a very useful too for the Spine Surgeon. It gives accurate and reliable information on the position and extent to which the nerve is trapped in the spine. Each finger that is numb means that a particular nerve is involved in the neck. For example, if your:
Thumb is numb: C6 nerve root
Middle finger is numb: C7 nerve root
Little finger is numb: C8 nerve root
What are my options for treatment?
PHYSIOTHERAPY: In most cases the initial treatment is gentle stretches and physiotherapy. This will help loosen the tense muscles around your neck. The real good news is that these exercises do help.
STEROID INJECTION: If in case, your scan shows a compression of the nerve then a targeted Nerve root injection under CT guidance can be given. This is a steroid injection that reduces the inflammation around the nerve the swelling caused by the compression.
SURGERY: The main aim is to ensure that the nerve is released. There are various techniques available to a well trained surgeon. This may involve removing part of the disc (discectomy) that causes the compression or replacing the soft cushions called the disc in the neck (disc replacement) or fusion of the spine to stop the movement that causes the irritation and numbness.