What Causes Numbness in Fingertips?

By Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 19, 2022

Experiencing numb fingertips can be scary, but it’s not always a cause for concern—in fact, it’s actually relatively common. 

The most likely cause of numbness in the fingertips is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the wrist.

Although the sensation may be uncomfortable, it’s very treatable. 

Other conditions, like Raynaud’s phenomenon, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia can also cause numb fingertips.

In this article, I’ll go over the most common causes of numb fingertips. I’ll also discuss when to contact a doctor or healthcare provider and answer some frequently asked questions.

Causes of Fingertip Numbness

A variety of conditions can cause numb fingertips. Some of these, like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), specifically affect the hands and fingers.

Others, like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, can affect the whole body, but fingertip numbness can be a symptom. 

In this section, I’ll discuss some possible causes of numb fingertips.

Carpal tunnel syndrome 

The most common reason for numbness in the fingertips is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), a nerve disorder that affects 4-10 million Americans.

Middle-aged and older individuals are more likely to get CTS.

Experts do not fully understand why CTS happens, but it is thought that repetitive motions may be a contributing factor. People that do repetitive movements at work, like typing or using a computer mouse, are at a higher risk.

CTS can range from mild to severe.

In mild cases, you might feel occasional, slight numbness in your fingertips. However, severe CTS can make you lose feeling in your hand.

The symptoms usually start in the dominant hand, and they can occur in just one or both of your hands. Often, symptoms will appear overnight, and you’ll wake up with stiffness and discomfort.

When diagnosing CTS, doctors usually try to rule out other possible causes of hand and finger numbness—arthritis, nerve entrapment, and some of the other conditions I’ll talk about later are all other potential culprits. 

Cervical radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy, also known as a “pinched nerve,” happens when a nerve is compressed or irritated.

This can cause tingling, numbness, weakness, and a “pins and needles” feeling. Additionally, it may be painful.

The pain may start in one spot and move to another.

For example, you may have a pinched nerve in your shoulder that causes pain to radiate down your arm, through your hand, and to your fingers.

Usually, cervical radiculopathy only affects one side of the body.

Most people don’t need to see a doctor for this condition.

In the majority of cases, a pinched nerve resolves on its own in a few days or weeks. If it doesn’t get better or continues to come back, you should contact your doctor.

Diabetes 

Sometimes, diabetes can cause numbness in the extremities, including the fingers. However, this is more commonly found in the legs and feet.

Over time, diabetes can cause poor circulation.

This can lead to a number of issues, such as cold feet and hands, slow wound healing, dry skin, and numbness.

Diabetes is a long-term (chronic) disease in which the body cannot regulate the amount of sugar in the blood. People with diabetes need to monitor their blood sugar and take glucose-lowering medications to keep it in check.

Raynaud’s disease 

Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, is very common.

In fact, it affects about 10% of the population, so you probably know someone with it.

In people with Raynaud’s, the fingers and toes can turn white, blue, or red when exposed to cold or stress. It can also make them feel tingly, painful, and numb.

This happens because capillaries (small blood vessels) spasm, which reduces blood flow. 

For most people, Raynaud’s is a mild inconvenience that can be managed with lifestyle changes.

They can use mittens and gloves, bring hand warmers to cold places, and try to reduce stress. Quitting smoking can also help. 

If these changes aren’t enough, your doctor can prescribe medication.

They may recommend blood pressure medications like calcium channel blockers and angiotensin-receptor blockers.

Rheumatoid arthritis 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition.

It’s an autoimmune disease, which means it happens when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues. 

Although rheumatoid arthritis itself does not cause numbness in the fingertips, it increases the risk of CTS; 1-5% of people with rheumatoid arthritis get it.

In arthritis, the hands are usually the first part of the body to be affected.

You might have redness, swelling, and weakness in your hands. Although the symptoms vary from person to person, they may potentially be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. 

Ulnar nerve entrapment

Compression neuropathy refers to pressure placed on a nerve.

One type of compression neuropathy is ulnar nerve entrapment, which causes numbness on the pinky finger side of the hand.

There are a lot of causes of compression neuropathy and sometimes, it has no clear cause.

Some reasons include injuries, soft tissue masses, and a thickened tendon lining.

You can treat it with occupational and physical therapy, pain relief medication, and splints or braces.

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Other Causes

Now that we’ve gone over the most common causes of numb fingertips, let’s discuss some less likely culprits. 

Certain conditions, medications, and infections can all sometimes cause numb fingertips; however, if you have numb fingertips, you shouldn’t jump to conclusions and assume you have one of these conditions.

This section may be helpful in identifying a cause if you have one of these—for example, if you are taking cancer medication, that may be the source of your numbness and tingling.

Conditions

Although the conditions discussed above are common causes, there are multiple other possible reasons for fingertip numbness. They include:

  • Ganglion cysts: If a ganglion cyst presses on a nerve, it can cause tingling and numbness. These are the most common form of masses in the hand and although they might seem scary, they are usually harmless. Most will get smaller with rest, but if yours is not getting better, then you should call your provider.
  • Vasculitis: This condition makes your blood vessels thicken and it can happen in response to an infection, autoimmune disease, allergic reaction to a medication, injury, or other causes. It ranges from mild to severe, and it can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, weakness, numbness, and red spots or lumps. This condition can be serious and needs medication, so it is important to call your doctor if you think you have vasculitis.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Because peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves in the hands and feet, it can cause numbness and pain. Common causes include diabetes, older age, and alcohol abuse. The best way to manage this condition is to treat the underlying cause, but a doctor can prescribe medications to reduce discomfort.
  • Fibromyalgia: Also called fibromyalgia syndrome, this can cause pain, fatigue, and stiffness all over the body. If you have this condition, you are more likely to get carpal tunnel syndrome, which can cause numbness in the hands and fingers.
  • Myofascial pain syndrome: This chronic pain disorder can make your muscles particularly sensitive and cause ongoing pain. It can cause your hands and forearms to feel numb, achy, and sore.

Infections 

It’s not common for an infection to cause fingertip numbness but in rare cases, it can happen. 

One infection that can cause this is syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The primary symptom of syphilis is a small sore or ulcer—while it’s usually on the penis, vagina, or anus, it can also emerge on the mouth and lips. 

A syphilis sore is usually round and firm, and they are generally painless. If you see a small, open sore that does not go away, you should contact your doctor to get tested.

Some people also have a rash, fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

Medications

Sometimes, certain medications can cause numbness in the fingertips.

For example, cancer treatment drugs can make the hands numb and tingly. 

Some chemotherapy drugs that have been shown to cause numbness include:

  • Bortezomib
  • Cisplatin
  • Docetaxel
  • Epothilone
  • Lenalidomide
  • Oxaliplatin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Pomalidomide
  • Suramin
  • Thalidomide
  • Vincristine

These symptoms are usually temporary, and they should go away after discontinuing the medication.

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When To See a Medical Provider

Although some of the causes of fingertip numbness will go away on their own, some do require a trip to the doctor.

A healthcare provider can evaluate your symptoms, diagnose what is wrong, and prescribe the best course of treatment.

You should contact your doctor if you experience:

  • Severe pain 
  • Numbness or tingling with no obvious cause
  • Frequent urination
  • A rash
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle spasms

Some symptoms are more serious and indicate that you shouldn’t wait to get in touch with your provider before seeking care. 

If you have any of the following, you should go to the emergency room:

  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to move your hand or fingers
  • Confusion

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What does numbness in your fingertips mean?
If you have some mild numbness in your fingertips, it’s probably nothing serious. The most prevalent cause is carpal tunnel syndrome, a common condition that gets better with rest. It might mean a more serious condition if the pain does not improve, however, so you may need to call your provider if that is the case.
When should I worry about finger numbness?
You usually don’t need to worry about finger numbness. If your fingers do not get better with rest, you have severe pain, a rash, or muscle spasms, you should call your doctor or provider. You should go to the emergency room if you cannot move your hand or fingers, have slurred speech, or experience mental confusion.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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Latifa deGraft-Johnson, MD

Dr. Latifa deGraft-Johnson is a board-certified family medicine physician with 20 years of experience. She received her bachelor's degree from St. Louis University, her medical degree from Ross University, and completed her family medicine residency at the University of Florida. Her passion is in preventative medicine and empowering her patients with knowledge.