Paresthesia is the term physicians use to refer to that sensation of numbness, tingling, pricking, tickling, cold or itching that we commonly refer to as a part of our body “falling asleep”.
What happens when a limb falls asleep?
When a leg, arm or hand falls asleep, it means that there is a problem in communication between the brain and that limb. Keeping a position where a limb is compressed for a long period of time interrupts function of the nerves, which are used by the brain to communicate with the other organs of the body. This momentary interruption, if linked to a lack of oxygen, which nerves need to transmit information, makes the limb numb, uncontrollable and, as we said, causes it to fall asleep.
Therefore, contrary to popular belief, it is not a problem linked to blood circulation.
What happens when a limb reawakens?
By freeing it from compression, the limb tends to “reawaken”, because the brain never ceases to try to communicate with all the peripheral appendages. That nerves reactivation causes that tingling feeling, that sort of pleasure that is often so intense, though, to be almost unbearable. The tingling sensation is the unmistakable signal that everything is returning to normal.
Paresthesia: not only when we sleep
Keeping our legs crossed for a long time, remaining seated in strange positions, standing on imbalanced positions for too long can momentously affect the functioning of our plexuses (the bundles of nerves that connect the muscles to the brain) or of the cauda equina (the nerves connected to the lower end of our body). While a limb will rarely fall asleep in these cases, as may instead occur when we wake up in the morning, these unhealthy habits may cause a sensation of numbness.
Paresthesia: when to be alarmed
Several diseases may involve one or more types of paresthesia. Which is why, when we cannot identify the cause, it is always best to consult a doctor.
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