Numb hands while sleeping

Lately I’ve had a lot of people asking me why they are waking up with numb hands, or tingling all the way to their fingers. The good news is, while annoying, it’s only because either the median nerve to the thumb and first two fingers, or the ulnar nerve to the ring and pinky fingers, is being impinged. While sleeping that’s easy to happen in several ways.

The first way is if your head is pushed forward, causing your scalenes to press into the bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus (this is one of the main causes for my own debilitating case of carpal tunnel syndrome that shut down my therapy practice back in 1997). Then the nerves go under a bone in your shoulder (coracoid process) which is the insertion point of a muscle of your chest (pectoralis minor), and when the muscle pulls down on the bone, it presses right into all three nerves (median, ulnar, and the radial nerve that goes to your wrist).

Now, here’s what I think is the biggest cause for numb/tingling fingers at night. The biceps are the next path along the route of the nerves to your hand. When the biceps contract you bend your elbow so you can touch your shoulder, but the biceps also originate on the coracoid process, so as we sleep with our arms bent it causes the muscle to shorten and then it pulls the bone into the nerves, and your hand goes numb.

I’ve found that if you wake up with your fingers numb or tingling, just straighten out your arms and you’ll be surprised how quickly the tingling will stop.

BTW, there is a medical term for your hands going numb or tingling and then coming back to when you shake them out, it’s called the “flick sign,” and in too many cases that’s considered a sure sign for carpal tunnel syndrome. Try to just lie still and straighten out your arm as I mentioned above, if your hand returns to normal, it’s just tight muscles that need to be treated.

Finally, the muscles of your lower arm which will also cause your hand to go numb or tingle because the muscles are putting pressure directly on the nerves, or the tight tendons can be trapping the median nerve within the carpal tunnel. You just need to release the tension on the lower arm muscles and the tendons will relax, therefore not impinging on the median nerve within the carpal tunnel, or the ulnar nerve as it passes along outside of the carpal tunnel.

Fortunately the muscles are easy to self-treat and it’s definitely worthwhile to give it a try so you can avoid needless surgery. The very worst thing that can happen is nothing, you can’t hurt yourself by self-treating any of these muscles.

Wishing you well,


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