Paresthesia is the medical term used to describe odd nerve sensations including tingling, burning, crawling, itching, numbness, and prickling.
These sensations can be mild, somewhat annoying, uncomfortable, or even quite painful. Some people describe them as an annoying tickle or a hair brushing against their skin. Others may experience a sensation similar to the “pins and needles” of a foot that’s “asleep” due to restricted blood flow, or bugs crawling under the skin.
Paresthesias often come and go rather than being a constant sensation. They can strike without warning, usually without an obvious trigger.
Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are both associated with paresthesias, including the painful kind.
In fibromyalgia, this symptom is firmly established by research as well as by anecdotal reports from people with the condition.
A 2009 study showed an association between smokers with fibromyalgia and more severe paresthesia. (This is just one of several symptoms that smoking may exacerbate.)
A 2012 study suggests that carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)—a painful and debilitating condition involving nerve compression in the wrist—is more common in people with fibromyalgia than in the general population. Researchers warned that CTS can be hard to spot in people with fibromyalgia because the pain is mistaken for paresthesias.
If you have paresthesias in your hands that get especially bad at night, you may want to ask your doctor about carpal tunnel syndrome.
In chronic fatigue syndrome, we have no real research on paresthesias but a wealth of anecdotal reports.
Paresthesias are most often caused by damage to peripheral nerves (those in the arms and legs) or pressure on those nerves, which may be caused by inflammation or injury.
They can also be caused by chemotherapy drugs. However, most of the time the cause is unknown.
While these sensations are most common in the feet, hands, and face, they can be present anywhere in the body.
In fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, they’re hypothesized to come from a general heightened sensitivity of the nerves as well as an amplified pain response in the brain. Other features of these conditions may play a role in paresthesias, though, including inflammation or damage to small nerve fibers.
When paresthesias aren’t painful or disruptive, they’re not something that needs to be treated. When they are painful, you’ve got several treatment options, which you can learn about in the Painful Paresthesias section of 7 Types of Fibromyalgia Pain.
The doctors most likely to understand paresthesias and how to treat them are neurologists and rheumatologists.