Numbness in Fingers and Atrophying of Arms

Dear all,

Would appreciate some advice and from others who have experienced similar symptoms.

For the past 6 months I have experienced numbness in the 4th and 5th fingers of both hands upon waking up in the morning. Initially it would occur only some days, now it’s almost everyday. I have tried avoiding sleeping on the sides, and facing up in one position but that is hard to control when in deep sleep. Sleep quality has not been affected much.

I stretch and do soft tissue work with foam rollers, pvc pipes and balls religiously everyday pre and post workout over the years. It does not seem to alleviate the problem.

I strength train full body 3x times a week comprising of a posterior chain movement like a squat variation(back/front) and deadlift, followed by a push and pull component. 2 days are usually lower volume and higher intensity in terms of rep/set schemes and load intensities and 1 day is high volume and lower percentages of my training max. I also dedicate 1 day a week to practicing the Oly Lifts and the assistance lifts.

My chiropractor seems to believe it is due to a pinched nerve in my spine in the C4-6 neck region. I have had more than 20 sessions with him of adjustments. I have changed my pillows, taken oral meds to improve circulation from another doctor. None of the above has helped.

I am getting quite worried and desperate now.
Then I have noticed , my arms, more noticeably my biceps, triceps and forearms have shrunk. This despite still lifting weights regularly. I could attribute some part of it to cutting calories while I tried leaning up some months back and perhaps as I shifted to a more strength based, low volume and less hypertrophy-focused program.
Strength has not suffered.

Could a pinched nerve result in numbness in fingers and result in arms atrophying despite strength training? What could have led to a pinched nerve in the first place? Lifting heavy?
Any home remedies to alleviate the problem?
Should I need to see a specialist and if so who? A Neurologist or Orthopaedic?

A pinched nerve root can cause numbness and atrophy in ONE arm. That fact that you have bilateral symptoms is concerning and must lead to the assumption that it is not a musculoskeletal issue until other more severe diagnoses are ruled out. I think a neurologist or internist would be the proper avenues for you to take, but you might want to see your GP first for a referral (my colleague, the chiro should have given you a referral already).

A severe enough injury in the neck COULD cause symptoms in both arms, but your original chiropractor has done a poor job in my opinion. Without some improvement, he should have at least changed treatment, and if that didn’t work, he should have made a referral to a neurologist or neurosurgeon. The appropriate time-frame would have been two to, at most, four weeks.

Thank you all the replies thus far.

The numbness will occur on the side I sleep upon. If I turn to my right and sleep in that position for a considerable time, I will wake up with numbness on the fingers of my right hand. The same thing with the left. Rarely both together.

I think I need to get an MRI done to ascertain whether the pinched nerve is from the neck in the spine, my shoulder joint or my elbows through the ulnar nerve.

The reason why my chiropractor was hesitant with a referral initially was it most likely lead to only one outcome with a specialist - invasive surgery.

Anyone else with the same injury history? How do you deal with it daily? Any massage therapy? What help was sought?


RSHK, this is something I’ve had for years. Although not the muscle atrophy.

A while back when it was at it’s worse it’d wake me every night - both hands - and also my fingers would be curled into a loose fist and for a few moments I’d be unable to straighten them. Nowadays I only get it occasionally, very mildly, and only in the arm I’m sleeping on.

I researched it at length over the years - very few documented causes of finger tingling/numbness affect the 4th and 5th finger.

The whole time I’ve been getting this problem I’ve been suffering from a fairly major muscle imbalance. Easiest described as a twisted pelvis. This results in tightness up and down my body. At one point it led to bad shoulder impingement.

As I’ve fixed the muscle imbalances the finger tingling problem has cleared up.

Lots of nerves run through the thoracic spine - tight muscle there could cause this. But in my experience, nerves can get irritated anywhere along their length - so pinched by bone, squashed by tight muscles - even trigger points in the muscles can cause referred tingling and numbness. I don’t know that an MRI would necessarily pick up the cause, and the worry is that it picks ups something that’s totally non-symptomatic and they want to operate on that!!! In other words, most adults have something wrong that’ll show up on x-ray or mri. If you have symptoms they’ll assume that what they find is the cause and stop looking for the real problem. (That happened to me - they found degenerative changes on x-rays of my hip, labelled it hip OA and sent me home with pain killers to rot!).

I wouldn’t worry too much about what the chiro says. The ones that have you going back endlessly to have your joints clicked tend (in my experience) to not be much use.

I’m not saying don’t bother to get it checked out, because it’s always wise to do that. But my bet would be that you’ve got something similar to me going on.

I’d try working on thoracic mobility, massage (with a lacrosse ball) of the traps and all around the shoulder blades, if you suspect any shoulder imbalances try some shoulder rehab stuff. Read through Eric Cressey’s Shoulder Saver articles on this site. Massage and stretch out pec minor - it’s usually tight and loosening it off can help take the strain off traps (which will help the thoracic and shoulders to line up properly). Obviously I’ve no idea if these things are an issue with you, but doing what I suggest won’t do any harm and these are common muscle imbalances in adults.

The atrophy - it’s possible I suppose that if muscles/joints aren’t functioning properly that you simply won’t be able to work them as well as normal. Trigger points can result in muscle atrophy. I had atrophied right glutes simply because my psoas got weak and inactive, but as I got the imbalances sorted the muscles started building back up again. So it’s not necessarily anything serious.

Thank you for taking the time in sharing your experiences at such great detail. Much appreciate it.

You are right. I have muscular imbalances. In fact I have a pelvic tilt. My right side is my dominant side and most of my niggling injuries(shoulders and knee) are on my right. My traps, neck muscles and shoulders are usually more tight than I would like them to be. This despite stretching and doing soft tissue work diligently.

Muscular imbalances are so difficult to rectify. Corrective exercises usually take a long time, if done correctly again, to see results.

Are you able to share what you did exactly to relieve the symptoms and how long it took?

Thank you once again.

[quote]RSHK wrote:
Thank you for taking the time in sharing your experiences at such great detail. Much appreciate it.

You are right. I have muscular imbalances. In fact I have a pelvic tilt. My right side is my dominant side and most of my niggling injuries(shoulders and knee) are on my right. My traps, neck muscles and shoulders are usually more tight than I would like them to be. This despite stretching and doing soft tissue work diligently.

Muscular imbalances are so difficult to rectify. Corrective exercises usually take a long time, if done correctly again, to see results.

Are you able to share what you did exactly to relieve the symptoms and how long it took?

Thank you once again.[/quote]

Susani’s issues were similar to my own. I had numbness and creeping paralysis in the left arm to the point that I could barely hoist a cup of coffee (so about 1 lb weight limit). Went to a doctor who ordered an MRI which showed “narrowing” of the spaces in the cervical spine. (Actually this is common and indicates pretty much nothing.) They were planning on doing a cervical fusion which would have effectively ended my training. Also, fusing any vertebrae (except the two lowest lumbar ones) usually causes changes along the length of the spine, so I was warned that over time I would get more fusions as a result.

Unwilling to do this, I went to a high end trainer who had a reputation for tough cases with pro athletes. I was hoping for a partial solution that could put surgery off or make the condition livable. He took one look and told me that the issue was a hip issue and that my neck was trying to correct for that. He put me on some repositioning exercises and within a month I was symptom free and haven’t had a problem since. Seriously.

The point is that it looked like I had a very serious, life changing issue, but investigating more determined that (a) surgeons want to do surgery no matter what and (b) a lot of scary orthopedic issues are pretty well understood and treatable.


– jj

I’m still not 100%, but I’ve got a very good understanding of what’s wrong and I am able to train pretty close to normally with fast progress. I’m expecting 100% resolution of the problems in the not too distant future.

But this is all just my experiences and the results of my research. I have no training, so don’t take anything I say as gospel!!

A big breakthrough for me was discovering that I had a “Right on Right Sacral Torsion”. This isn’t necessarily the cause - more likely the symptom. But knowing how the sacrum is sitting will provide you with a HUGE amount of information about what’s going on in the rest of your body.

I explained a lot in the thread next to this one “I need a doctor” - have a read at that to save me writing it again! LOL

Physios, specialists etc didn’t pick up on this with me. When I used to tell them I felt as if everything was twisted they dismissed it. But I think it’s hugely significant. I found online resources that helped me to figure out exactly what was happening with my sacrum. I can track down links for you if you’re interested. Just let me know.

If it turns out you do have some kind of sacral torsion it can help you to understand why stretching and strengthening doesn’t get you anywhere. Your whole body is ‘stuck’ (not necessarily stuck - perhaps just more mobile on one side). Your spine will be twisted - probably with some scoliosis. Stabilisers are forced to act as prime movers because the prime movers are going into over-drive trying to stabilise you body. Knowing what the sacrum is doing will help you to figure out what’s going on throughout your whole body.

I can’t so much suggest a solution, but rather a plan of attack:

  • Look up the postural restoration institute, and the NeuroKinetic therapy fb page I linked to on the other thread. That will help you a lot in understanding how to unravel things. I think these guys have a really good understanding of this kind of problem.

  • Download and run the ‘Sacral Motion Through the Gait Cycle’ animation on this page:

The movement is exaggerated in these videos but it will help you to understand the issues that would occur if you’ve got ‘stuck’ or biased towards a certain position. Remember - the whole body moves in relation to the sacrum so if it’s stuck then everything else is out of whack too! There’s an animation of Right on Right sacral torsion - that’s how I was (and still am to a small degree).

  • NKT thinking is that a muscle is generally tight because another muscle - perhaps quite distant from the symptoms - is inhibited (so not firing). It can be easily woken up by simply contracting against resistance a few times. This will reset the nervous system - first attempt the muscle is weak. Second attempt the brain tries to find a better firing pattern.

  • The complication is, that with long term imbalances like ours the whole body is involved. There are chains of weak, inactive, overactive, hypertonic muscles throughout the body. It’s impossible to find the right sequence to get everything working.

The major players for me are :

  • Tight, weak, inactive right psoas
  • Tight, weak, inactive right glutes
  • Tight, overactive Rec Fem/TFL/Iliacus
  • Tight, overactive pec minor
  • WEAK traps - i’d always thought my traps needed stretching out because they were too tight - that’s how it felt. But if you think about it, that typical posture of tight chest pulling shoulders down at the front is inhibitting the traps and making them weak.

A tight muscle won’t let go while it’s having to compensate for a weak muscle so target the weak muscles - every single one that you can find!!

My core is mega strong - I’ve done a 9 minute plank. Yet my right psoas (major part of the core) wasn’t firing at all. So don’t underestimate your body’s ability to compensate and ‘fake’ correct movement.

My right glutes would not fire because hip flexors were tight and inhibiting them. Because glutes are weak Rec Fem, TFL and iliacus won’t let go. They’re trying to stabilise me. Psoas tightens up more if I try to stretch it.

Well, it turned out that I had to activate and strengthen the psoas. That allows it to stretch a bit. That lets my glutes fire and my Rec Fem / TFL / Iliacus start to release. To complicate things further, there’s a whole bunch of related stuff going on in my upper body. So for example, loosening my thoracic freed up my pelvis a lot. You need to think of the body as a single unit - it’s all tied into each other.

So for me it was a matter of chipping away at all the weak, inactive and tight bits but also working on big, whole body movements. So for example, a VERY GOOD weight lifting coach can help a lot by teaching you to move with perfect form in squats etc. That’s been more help to me than physios, who really don’t have the experience of getting people back to a high level of functionality.

It’s such a huge, complex topic. I can’t give you simple answers. But if you want me to expand on anything I’ve mentioned I’m more than happy to do so. Either here or via private message.

Do look up NeuroKinetic Therapy - and PRI. It’ll help you to increase your understanding of what’s going on.

And good luck!!

My symptoms only occur after awakening from sleep. How do you sleep? What head position, posture do you assume? Type of pillows or height?

Thank You.

I will try to take in all that you have shared, NKT, PRI and all. It’s one thing knowing what’s happening to me and another trying to rectify the problem. As you correctly mentioned it could be so many factors intertwined as one symptom. The body is indeed complex with all the imbalances, muscles not firing right and the resultant overcompensation.

I had knee issues for years, then a seasoned lifted just suggested squatting with rehband knee sleeves. Overnight all the pain went away. I’ve been squatting pain free ever since even without the sleeves. Funny how the body works. I would love quick fixes and fast remedies but I know that they don’t always exist in the real world.

It’s my luck that I got your reply else it would have taken me years to unravel this too. It’s one of those things that fall through the cracks of standard medical care.

I tend to sleep on one side with arms bent at the elbow (so hands up under my chin). My shoulder also folds forwards…hard to describe. As if I place the back of my shoulder on the bed then roll my body onto it’s side. This is part and parcel of what was wrong with my shoulders so I worked to try and keep my shoulders square when I slept - so lying on the outside edge of my shoulder. As that’s improved the tingling went away so I feel that might be part of it.

So sleeping with quite a high pillow and keeping the shoulders square and arms a little less tightly bent at the elbows. And of course working during the day to loosen of biceps, pec minor, neck muscles (sternocleidomastoid - pains shot everywhere if I dug my finger down behind my collar bone. I think that can pull the first rib up and compress everything). Also strengthen traps. Face pulls are good for me as they work external shoulder rotation.

My shoulders are ‘glued’ to my rib cage at the front, so when I lift my arms overhead my rib cage flares at the front and my back arches. So another important thing for me is getting that rib cage to stay down whilst arms are overhead. So ab wheel rollouts etc - but also being aware of trying to maintain correct posture 24/7. Also lying on a foam roller so my spine runs the length of the roller then press back of rib cage into roller so it can’t tilt and lift arms overhead and let it all stretch out.

Of course, your pattern of tightness will be very different, but I’m mentioning all of these as with similar tingling problems there’s a possibility we share some of the same dysfunctions!

I too only ever had the problem when awaking from sleep.