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Why Post-Concussion Syndrome Causes Tingling Hands (And What to Do)
Dr. Jaycie Loewen

By: Dr. Jaycie Loewen on July 23rd, 2021

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Why Post-Concussion Syndrome Causes Tingling Hands (And What to Do)

Concussions  |  Brain Injury Awareness  |  Education & Resources  |  Post Concussion Treatment

Tingling hands following a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI) might sound relatively minor, but for anyone who’s had the misfortune to experience this symptom, it can be painful, puzzling, and disruptive to daily activities.

Like other bizarre-sounding concussion symptoms — such as different blood pressure readings in one arm vs. the other, new food sensitivities, or musical auditory hallucinations — hand tingling might not show up immediately after your injury or seem like it’s connected to the concussion. But because of how the brain is connected with all the parts of your body — and because injuries often affect the autonomic nervous system — these symptoms can and do happen after an mTBI.

A symptom like hand tingling may not be taken seriously by your doctors. But that doesn’t mean you’re imagining things or that you can’t do anything about it.

At Cognitive FX, we treat patients with all types of persistent post-concussion symptoms. Our multidisciplinary team of brain injury experts provides diagnosis and treatment, including sensorimotor therapy, neurointegration therapy, physical therapy, massage therapy, cognitive therapy, occupational therapy, and more. Our diverse backgrounds as healthcare professionals make us uniquely equipped to handle the complexities of post-concussion syndrome

Concussions happen in an instant, but their repercussions last much, much longer. For many patients, self-education about concussion symptoms is a vital part of the recovery process — because when you know what you’re dealing with, and that healing is possible, you can begin to move forward with your life.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

While every patient and every head injury is unique, 95% of our patients experience statistically verified restoration of brain function following treatment. To learn if our comprehensive, multidisciplinary treatment process is right for you, schedule a free consultation

Are Tingling Hands a Symptom of Post-concussion Syndrome? 

Holding hands to test for feeling in fingers

Yes, tingling hands are a documented potential symptom of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). However, even in individuals with PCS, there are multiple concussion-related reasons why tingling hands may occur. To further complicate matters, sometimes people with PCS can also have tingling hands for unrelated reasons.

The official medical definition of post-concussion syndrome applies when symptoms last longer than three months. If you know you had head trauma (whether or not there was loss of consciousness) and are now experiencing tingling hands — and if that wasn’t a symptom you ever had before — there’s a significant chance this symptom is concussion related. 

Here’s a list of the basic reasons for tingling hands:

  1. Trauma directly to the brain that happened during your accident.
  2. Other injuries to the nervous system that also occurred during the accident.
  3. “Downstream” effects stemming from other symptoms or changes to the body that were themselves a result of the head injury. 

But at the physiological level, the reasons are often anything but basic. Concussions can affect multiple systems in your body for years or decades — that’s why they’re often highly disruptive to patients’ lives as well as extremely challenging to treat.

Because the human body is so complex, it’s not possible to self-diagnose the exact reasons your hands might be tingling. However, in cases where other symptoms are also present, you may be able to narrow down the possible underlying causes.

Potential Causes of Tingling Hands in Post-concussion Syndrome

Detailed list of potential causes

Here are the main reasons tingling hands can occur in people who have post-concussion syndrome:

  • Sensory perception alterations: The human brain devotes a lot of space and energy to hand articulation (like speech, opposable thumbs are one of the evolutionary features that set us apart from most other species). Impact or physical trauma to the cortex, thalamus, or spinal cord can disrupt this processing, causing sensory distortions. As with many symptoms, it may also involve problems with neurovascular coupling (inadequate blood flow to these areas of the brain and nervous system, resulting in a lack of fuel and oxygen when they’re needed most).

  • Autonomic nervous system dysfunction: Also called dysautonomia, dysfunction of the ANS is unfortunately common after concussions. Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling blood flow to extremities and other areas of your body. When it isn’t working correctly, you might experience tingling hands or other symptoms resembling Raynaud’s syndrome (which involves discoloration, coldness, and numbness, especially in response to cool ambient temperatures).

  • Problems with metabolism and hormone imbalances: Concussions can throw off your metabolism, which can cause other unexpected symptoms, including tingling hands. Too much or too little cortisol is often at the root of post-concussion metabolic issues, but because concussions can affect your hypothalamus and pituitary (the primary areas of your body responsible for controlling hormone function), numerous other hormones may also play a role.

  • Structural issues and nerve impingement: Sometimes, the reasons for concussion-related hand tingling are actually outside of the skull. Injury or compression of the tissues in the neck, shoulder, arm, wrist, or hand can interfere with the function of the radial nerve, causing hand tingling and related symptoms. Cervical spine instability or forward-leaning posture are also possible causes of nerve impingement. (Another concussion-related cause of poor posture is that vision problems sometimes cause patients to lean forward.)

  • Improper breathing patterns: Hyperventilation (rapid breathing) resulting from pain or anxiety after a concussion lowers blood carbon dioxide levels and tends to cause vasoconstriction (closing off of blood vessels), which can reduce blood flow to the hands and feet. Numbness, tingling, and sensations of chilling or coldness in the extremities might result from altered breathing dynamics which result from concussion. These issues with breathing can be due to ANS issues, physiological compensation (the body trying to provide the brain with more oxygen to compensate for injury), posture, and more. Most patients don’t realize that their breathing is off!

If all this information seems a little bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. Even experienced medical professionals often find it difficult to get to the bottom of post-concussive symptoms!

Sometimes there's a clear relationship between a cause and a symptom, such as a patient with neck pain and cervical instability (loose ligaments in the neck making it difficult to hold the head up) who is also dealing with tingling hands after a whiplash injury. Or a patient who has chronic anxiety with shallow, rapid breathing and only experiences hand tingling during stressful situations. 

But more often than not, it’s more accurate to say that a set of symptoms points to a certain kind of cause. At our clinic, for example, we've treated patients who had vascular dysfunction with bulging blood vessels accompanied by tingling and numbness in one hand and not the other. This scenario suggests autonomic nervous system dysfunction, but doesn’t conclusively prove it.

A visit to your family doctor or a general practitioner can often be helpful for ruling out some basic causes, but is unlikely to get to the root of post-concussion symptoms and solutions.

Hand Numbness after Head Injury 

Numbness of the hands is another possible symptom of post-concussion syndrome. It may occur along with tingling hands or separately. Like hand tingling, it can happen because of problems with the brain, autonomic nervous system, hormones, nerve impingement, or respiration.

As with hand tingling, it’s a good idea to see your doctor if you experience hand numbness following a head injury, but it may not be possible to diagnose the root causes without a detailed brain scan and other diagnostic tools not available to many clinicians. Even a minor head injury or neck injury can cause hand numbness or other lasting symptoms that require a complex knowledge of neurology to diagnose.

Can a Concussion Cause Neuropathy? 

Image of a healthy nerve vs an unhealthy nerve

 

The answer depends on how you define neuropathy. Neuropathy essentially means “nerve dysfunction,” which technically includes nerve impingement and damage as well as hormonal issues that interfere with nerve function. However, luckily, concussions are not associated with the types of neuropathy found in diabetes, infections, or autoimmune conditions.

If you’ve had a concussion and now experience hand numbness or tingling, it’s definitely possible that nerve dysfunction due to injury, impingement, or other causes is involved. 

But the good news is that, unlike the more severe forms of neuropathy, tingling in post-concussion syndrome generally isn’t degenerative or progressive in nature. You should still treat it because post-concussion symptoms are serious and may end up worsening if left untreated, but most people don’t need to be too concerned about the types of neuropathy that come up on a Google search.

If you have diabetes, an autoimmune condition (such as multiple sclerosis), or other risk factors and have also experienced tingling hands following a concussion, be sure to see your doctor to figure out whether another type of neuropathy may be involved in your symptoms.

Treatment Options for Tingling Hands in Post-concussion Syndrome

Massage and pressure points as treatment

In post-concussion syndrome, there’s never only one symptom, and each individual symptom can be the result of multiple, overlapping concussion-related causes. 

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to isolate and treat a single symptom of post-concussion syndrome effectively. And even if you could, a piecemeal treatment approach wouldn’t be capable of delivering lasting results. 

Most concussion patients have never received effective concussion treatment in the first place. Scientific research demonstrates that the most commonly prescribed “treatment” for concussions, rest and darkness, isn’t effective for the majority of people. Lasting physical and cognitive symptoms such as sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, memory loss or other memory problems, blurry vision or other vision problems, light sensitivity, and balance problems are commonplace. 

At Cognitive FX, our multidisciplinary team administers a pioneering treatment approach that takes the circumstances and needs of each patient into account. 

When patients arrive for their intensive treatment week, the very first step in the process is to administer an fNCI brain scan. This is a special type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan that measures blood flow to the brain. 

Because it’s standardized for clinical use, the scan allows us to get an overview of the patient’s situation and correlate their symptoms with brain function rather than guess or make assumptions. We can identify which brain regions were impacted by your injury and in what way (either too active or underactive) and tailor your treatment accordingly.

Example of matrix reasoning findings

fNCI results showed a hypoactive thalamus and basal ganglia for our patient Olivia Seitz (read her story here). Their activity levels were three standard deviations from the norm.

From there, our team of doctors, therapists, and neuroscientists tailors an individualized treatment regimen based on the nature of your injury, your scan results, and any symptoms you’re experiencing.

Here’s a sampling of how some of our treatment approaches can be incredibly helpful if you’re dealing with tingling hands:

  • EPIC treatment focuses on restoring normal neurovascular coupling, which can reduce alterations in sensory perception caused by trauma to the processing parts of the brain or central nervous system.

  • Neurointegration therapy is useful in patients with dysautonomia because it assists with balancing and regulating the autonomic nervous system, which can help restore blood flow to the hands and prevent tingling from occurring.

  • Physical therapy and massage therapy help restore normal movement and address nerve impingement or entrapment, which are vital to treat tingling hands if your accident resulted in structural issues that affect your radial nerve, or if your posture has been compromised because of your concussion.

  • Neuromuscular therapy (along with cardio sessions and neurointegration therapy) retrains patients to breathe correctly, which can prevent vasoconstriction and increase the delivery of oxygen-laden blood to the extremities, potentially helping stop tingling.

Example of various treatments and therapy

Again, these are some of the therapies we use that can help with tingling hands, but the real key to success at our facility is the fact that we use a comprehensive approach to treat the underlying causes of symptoms.

After a week-long treatment period at Cognitive FX, patients receive a second, follow-up fNCI scan. This allows us to quantify the effectiveness of the treatment approach as well as prescribe another set of individualized recommendations to follow at home and support long-term healing.

At Cognitive FX, 95% of our patients experience statistically verified restoration of brain function after treatment at our clinic. Their average one-week improvement on the scan is 75%; average one-week symptom improvement is 60%. To learn if you’re eligible for treatment, schedule a free consultation with our team. 

What You Can Do at Home Safely for Tingling Hands

List of things that can be safely done at home

With post-concussion syndrome, nothing you can do by yourself at home is enough to solve the underlying brain and nervous system problems responsible for symptoms.

However, there are a few safe recommendations that are worth a try. They’re not a substitute for treatment, but they might help you feel better. 

And in most cases, the recommendations below are beneficial for your health whether or not they provide relief from your symptoms.

1. Stretch gently and move around.

Stretching feels good and can help calm your autonomic nervous system.

Additionally, people with nerve impingement or nerve entrapment often find that stretching or just moving their limbs can provide some relief from tingling hands.

You can do yoga or other stretching programs, but don’t push your body too hard without adequate recovery time. Most of the time, it works equally well to simply stand up and move your neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, and wrists through their natural ranges of motion.

2. Do 30 minutes of easy aerobic exercise.

Physical activity increases blood flow throughout your body and brain. 

Improving circulation to your hands may help address numbness or tingling, and increasing blood flow to sensory processing areas of your brain that are affected by concussion can also be helpful.

Walking is a good activity to start, but cycling or elliptical also work well. If you can’t manage 30 minutes, do as long as you can handle comfortably. Be sure to allow an adequate recovery period between exercise sessions, too.

3. Try slow breathing.

Breathing slowly and deeply (but not forcefully or unnaturally deeply) can help calm anxiety and may also improve circulation.

According to a 2019 study, breathing at 0.1 hz (that’s one full breath per 10 seconds) increases CO2 levels in your blood, making it particularly effective for people who may be experiencing vasoconstriction due to rapid breathing.

4. Be aware of your posture.

Poor posture can pinch nerves in your cervical spine, thoracic spine, or shoulders.

Fixing posture is one area that sometimes pays off majorly in terms of stopping patients’ hands from tingling (but again, still doesn’t repair the other underlying problems behind post-concussion syndrome).

The most common problem is excessive forward posture (which is often made worse by frequent use of smartphones and other devices), but some people also have other postural issues to address, such as leaning to one side.

You can look in the mirror or have someone take a photo to see if you’re really sitting or standing up straight. Another trick that works well is to set a timer on your phone to remind you throughout the day.

How Long Can Post-concussion Syndrome Last?

Someone experiencing long lasting effects from a concussion

Post-concussion syndrome lasts anywhere from three months (the minimum period of time for this diagnosis) up to decades. Contrary to popular belief, symptoms usually don’t go away on their own. While patients may learn to ignore or live with symptoms, treating mild TBIs provides the best chance at real recovery.

One of the longest cases with lasting symptoms of brain trauma we’ve documented went on for 33 years after the initial injury, until one day, purely by chance, the individual stumbled upon effective treatment. (You can read more about Samuel’s story and remarkable progress here.) 

There’s no way to know how many people out there are in need of treatment who aren’t aware, but it’s well-documented that emergency rooms miss over half of concussions — and that’s just for people who seek medical attention. Overall, approximately 90% of people with symptoms of concussion don’t even realize they have one; multiply that by the estimated 2 million or more concussions per year in the United States, and the number is likely very high.

Keep in mind that, no matter how minor or insignificant an individual post-concussion symptom might seem, it’s the result of trauma to your brain, the most complex and delicate organ in your entire body.  The bottom line is that anyone who’s experiencing noticeable, lasting symptoms from a concussion is living with brain function impairment. 

And while the outdated “rest and darkness” prescription is ineffective for most concussion survivors, today there are new, proven treatment methods available. Better yet, except in those cases of brain damage where brain cells are permanently gone, most post-concussion patients can make significant progress with proper medical care. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the big picture of post-concussion syndrome and its causes and symptoms, read our complete patient guide to post-concussion syndrome.

For more details on what to expect from treatment, and the ups and downs of living with post-concussion syndrome, read real life stories from patients here

At Cognitive FX, 95% of our patients experience statistically verified restoration of brain function after treatment at our clinic. Their average one-week improvement on the scan is 75%; average one-week symptom improvement is 60%. To learn if you’re eligible for treatment, schedule a free consultation with our team.

About Dr. Jaycie Loewen

Dr. Jaycie Loewen is a Clinical Neuroscientist who received her Doctorate of Neuroscience at the University of Utah. Her background includes the study of basic and clinical brain injury, including the publication of research regarding mechanisms of epilepsy pathophysiology. Her work has elucidated the role of glial and neuronal cell profiles in viral-induced brain injury and acute seizures. Dr. Loewen is further a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholar, with a Master's in Clinical Investigation awarded in 2018, as well as a recipient of the Higher Education Teaching Specialist Certificate. Through these degrees, she obtained experience with patient care and education as well as an understanding of the necessity of respecting patient experience and symptoms. Dr. Loewen’s focus is firstly patient care and education. She also provides literature analysis and aids in the publication of Cognitive FX’s research. Her goal is to improve Cognitive Fx’s ability to help patients through equal interaction and communication, as well as the furthering of concussion and mild traumatic brain injury treatment and science.

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