What Causes Pain, Numbness, Tingling, and Weakness in the Arms and Legs?
Connie, 78 years old, had right buttock and ankle pain.
Nancy, 74 years old, complained of pain outside of her ankle upon waking in the morning which dissipated as she moved around.
Izzo, 42 years old, complained of both his arms “falling asleep” when sleeping and riding his motorcycle.
Paige, 52 years old, had left leg pain down to her ankle when walking too far.
Amy, 57 years old, came in with weakness in her foot known as drop foot.
Heather, 32 years old, complained of both arms going numb while sleeping.
What do all these people have in common?
The answer: Improper positioning while doing everyday activities
Improper positioning, alignment and movement can result in nerve compression
For everyone of these patients, you’d assume their complaints could mean nerve compression coming from the spine. That’s because we know that pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms or legs can all be signs that someone has a spine issue such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
However, upon exam, that was not the case. The objective data and the subjective information from the patient didn’t add up, so I could not diagnose these patients with a back or neck problem.
Turns out, they all had soft tissue issues from improper positioning, alignment and movement resulting in nerve compression that was not coming from the spine.
After one or two visits to The Manual Touch clinic, all of the patients felt at least 50% better and some got rid of their symptoms completely. Why? I simply educated them on proper positioning for sleeping, sitting, standing, and walking.
How To Correct Improper Positioning
Connie, Nancy, and Paige all had nerve irritation around the ankle as a result of improper sleeping. In each case, when lying on their side with a pillow between their legs, but not between their feet, the top foot would hang down causing excessive stretching on the outside of the ankle. In addition, each had issues with their gait causing improper positioning when walking, which compounded the issue. For Connie and Nancy, both in their seventies, the big clue was that they had symptoms in only one leg. A diagnosis of spinal stenosis almost always affects both legs equally.
Izzo slept on his stomach with his arms over his head and his motorcycle had high handlebars requiring his arms to maintain a long term position above his shoulders. He either had some nerve or vascular impingement in the large neck muscles, the upper traps, or in his armpits. He was instructed to stop sleeping on his stomach with his arms over his head and to get new handlebars on his motorcycle so that his hands were positioned lower than his shoulders.
Heather, like Izzo, slept with her arms in a position that caused similar impingements.
Amy, with her drop foot, (typically a sign of a serious spinal or brain issue such as a stroke or tumor) didn’t fit with that diagnosis because she lacked other corroborating data to confirm it. In fact, what she had was an impinged peroneal nerve, which wraps around her knee, from her sitting on her leg tucked underneath her for lengthy periods of time.
Everyday activities, when done incorrectly, can cause pain and suffering
In my experience, It’s hard for people to imagine that basic, everyday activities that you do subconsciously could be such a huge contributor to your pain. But, it is. Another patient of mine summed it up perfectly by saying, “I’ve walked for 75 years without thinking about it, but now I have to”.
From these examples, you can see how important it is for physical therapists to take a thorough history and exam of their patients in order to truly determine what is going on. And in these cases, like most soft tissue issues, NO IMAGING of any kind would have been able to show or diagnose what is the real issue causing these patients symptoms.
Tips to improve improper positioning when sleeping, sitting, standing, and walking
Tips for Proper Sleeping:
- Side Sleeping – put a pillow between your legs all the way down between your feet
- Back Sleeping – put a pillow underneath your thighs and knees
- Pillow – your pillow should be thick enough to keep your head in neutral whether on your side or on your back
- Keep your arms in a position below your shoulders, not overhead
- Pull your shoulder blades down to avoid hunching shoulders into your ears
- Keep wrists in neutral – use a brace if needed
Tips for Proper Sitting
- Keep your feet flat on the floor or stool with your knees straight ahead
- Sit on a wedge
- Don’t cross your legs
Tips for Proper Standing
- Engage your abs
- Find your center of balance over your feet
- Soften your knees
- Lower your chest
- Use Good Posture
Tips for Proper Walking
- Position your feet underneath your hips and visualize walking on either side of a traffic line
- Engage your glutes by pushing the ground away, like how a dog brushes their paws in the grass
- Walk Mindfully
- Wear the right shoes
For more positioning and movement tips, download the two e-books below to prevent pain or injury, to manage pain or injury or, if you’re lucky, resolve your pain completely!!