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Numbness in the thumb, a finger, or a larger portion of the hand can be caused by numerous different factors. They range from strokes to diabetes, from alcoholism to Lyme Disease, and from a vitamin B12 deficiency to HIV.

Because some very serious medical conditions are among the causes of numbness within the upper extremities, seeking medical help to establish what is going on is always a good idea if you are suffering from ongoing feelings of numbness in your hands, and especially if the feeling gradually radiates outwards or is getting worse.

(Seek immediate emergency care for yourself or someone else in this situation if dizziness, a severe headache, partial paralysis, a confused and disoriented state of mind, and an inability to talk are occurring in combination with numbness.)

Numbness in the upper extremities after repetitive use of the hands for certain activities, such as computer or conveyor belt work, without other worrying symptoms, is most likely to point to a repetitive stress injury, however.

Symptoms that people with any repetitive stress injury (RSI) — that is, in short, an injury caused by constantly moving the body in the same manner — will experience include pain, numbness, tingling sensations, and also tenderness and swelling.

It is important to note that when you first notice these symptoms, they are likely to subside very soon after you stop engaging in the causative activity. There is no need to run ti the doctor right away after feeling a little weird in the thumb after you have been using a drill an afternoon; only when, after stopping your activity, the numbness and pain persist.

Should you continue to weaken the affected body part by continued use of the body in the same way, symptoms are eventually going to persist even when you rest your body for a while. If left untreated for too long, even surgery may be necessary in the end.

So, people who have sore fingers after uncharacteristically typing a very long report over the course of two days are likely to get better all by themselves as long as they refrain from typing for a while, while those who continue on anyway are much more likely to require an encounter with the doctor.

Types of repetitive stress injury that can affect the hand and wrist are:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is the most common repetitive stress injury and can affect the thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger.

  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, which can affect the little finger, ring finger, and even areas further up the arm.

  • DeQuervain's Syndrome, which affects the wrist.

  • Gamekeeper's thumb, which as the name suggests affects the thumb.

Other, non-RSI, conditions such as writer’s cramp, essentially a malfunctioning central nervous system, and Ganglion cysts, are also possible. If, however, you have a repetitive stress injury, you will want to consult your doctor for guidance on improving your symptoms through means such as physical therapy, resting, laser treatment, splints, the use of corticosteroids, and some severe cases even surgery.

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