Pain in the hands and feet can result from problems with the joints, tendons, ligaments, or nerves. Symptoms can vary from deep aches, sharp pains, joint stiffness, swelling, numbness, tingling, and burning sensations, and can result from several different conditions, including neuropathy, arthritis, and lupus.
Peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the peripheral nervous system that is made up of the many nerves in the body, including those in the arms and legs, that send signals to and from the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral nerves transmit both sensory information, such as feelings of pressure, pain, and temperature, and motor function information to contract and relax muscles. The hands and feet are most commonly affected by peripheral neuropathy.1
There are multiple causes of peripheral neuropathy that result in nerve pain in the hands and feet due to nerve damage, including:1
- Nerve injury: Injury to nerves can occur in a variety of ways, including motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports-related injuries, bone fractures, and medical procedures like surgeries.
- Diabetes: About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes suffer from diabetic peripheral neuropathy, numbness, tingling, burning, and pain most often in the feet.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy used to treat various forms of cancer can cause peripheral neuropathy in the hands and feet in 30% to 40% of patients, with symptoms of numbness, tingling, and pain lasting several months after stopping chemotherapy.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome results from compression of the median nerve in the wrist from tightness and inflammation of the finger flexor tendons. It often occurs in people who use a computer for extended periods of time or engage in repetitive hand motions as part of their job duties, such as construction and factory work. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the thumb and first three fingers of one or both hands.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome: Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed at the elbow, causing pain, numbness, and tingling along the pinky finger, ring finger, and side of the hand, known as ulnar neuropathy.
- Ulnar tunnel syndrome: Ulnar neuropathy can also result from ulnar tunnel syndrome, where the ulnar nerve is compressed at the wrist in an area known as Guyon’s canal where the ulnar nerve passes through. Symptoms include pain, numbness, and tingling along the pinky finger, ring finger, and side of the hand, often caused by repetitive motions or sustained pressure on the wrist with activities like hammering, weightlifting, golfing, and bicycling.
- Guillain-Barre syndrome: Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune polyneuropathy where the body attacks its own nerves in an ascending pattern starting from the lower extremities that can progress to the rest of the body. Pain, tingling, and weakness often begin in the feet.
- Vascular damage: Damage to blood vessels from diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and peripheral vascular disease decreases the delivery of oxygen to peripheral nerves, resulting in damage.
- Infections: Viral infections, such as varicella-zoster (chicken pox and shingles), herpes simplex (cold sores), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and cytomegalovirus can attack nerve cells, causing damage and resulting in neuropathic pain that can affect the hands and feet.
- Renal and liver failure: Chronic renal failure is associated with peripheral neuropathy.2 This type of peripheral neuropathy is known as uremic neuropathy. It occurs regardless of the cause of renal failure, and research suggests that hyperkalemia (higher than normal levels of potassium) may play a role in the development of this neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is also common in severe liver disease.3
- Vitamin deficiencies or toxins: Certain toxins and nutritional deficiencies can damage the peripheral nervous system. Deficiencies of vitamins B12, E, B6, and B1 and copper have been linked to peripheral neuropathy.2 Exposure to several metals like lead, thallium, and mercury has been shown to cause this condition. Alcoholism has also been commonly reported in people with peripheral neuropathy.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can vary based on the extent of damage to the nerves in the hands and feet. The most common symptom is nerve pain in the hands and feet.
Other symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:1
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased sensation
- Hypersensitivity to touch (allodynia)