The 3 Week Diet

What can cause a tingling sensation on the back?

A tingling, or pins and needles, sensation in the back can result from conditions that affect the underlying nerves. Doctors refer to this sensation as paresthesia. Causes can include infections, spinal injuries, fibromyalgia, and vascular malformations.

In this article, we discuss some of the possible causes of tingling in the back and their treatment options. We also cover when to see a doctor.

Shingles

Woman holding her back due to tingling in back
Shingles may be a cause of tingling in the back.

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful, itchy rash that typically develops on one side of the body. However, the rash can occur on any part of the body, including the back and face.

The rash produces fluid-filled blisters that begin to scab over after several days and usually clears up after 2–4 weeks.

Before the rash appears, a person may experience a tingling, itching, or a painful burning sensation in the affected area.

Other symptoms can include:

A person can only develop shingles if they have previously had chickenpox. When a person recovers from chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus that causes the infection remains inactive in the body. This virus can reactivate many years later to cause an outbreak of shingles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around in 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles during their lifetime. It is possible for a person to have a shingles outbreak more than once.

Treatment

Doctors can prescribe antiviral medications that help reduce the severity and shorten the duration of shingles. Other-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths may also help to relieve a person’s symptoms.

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the vertebrae in the spine slips out of place. This slippage can occur anywhere along the spine, but tends to happen in the lumbar region, or lower back.

Spondylolisthesis does not always cause symptoms. However, if a slipped vertebra presses on a nerve, it can cause pain or a tingling sensation in the back that may radiate down to the back of the thighs.

Other symptoms can include back stiffness, a feeling of weakness in the legs, and problems walking or standing up straight. Symptoms of spondylolisthesis may get worse with physical activity but improve while sitting or leaning forward.

Treatment

Treatment of spondylolisthesis depends on the severity of the symptoms. A person may be able to treat their symptoms at home with:

  • rest
  • ice packs
  • OTC anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • exercises to strengthen the back muscles

For more severe symptoms, a doctor may recommend steroid injections or surgery.

Spinal fracture

Doctor looking at an X-Ray of a spine
Symptoms of a spinal fracture may include numbness or a tingling sensation.

Spinal fractures can occur as a result of forceful impacts, such as from motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, falling from height, and violence. Chronic medical conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis and tumors, can also lead to spinal fractures.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the majority of spinal fractures occur in the middle and lower back.

Spinal fractures can cause moderate to severe pain that may worsen when a person moves.

Other symptoms may include:

  • numbness or a tingling sensation
  • a loss of bowel and bladder control
  • difficulty moving the legs

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity, type, and location of the fracture, as well as if the person has any other injuries.

In some circumstances, a doctor may perform emergency surgery to reduce pressure on the spinal cord. Other treatments include wearing a special back brace for 6 to 12 weeks and rehabilitation exercises.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain and tenderness, as well as increased sensitivity to pain. People with fibromyalgia may also experience numbness or tingling in parts of the body, such as the back, hands, and feet.

Other symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • anxiety and depression
  • sleeping difficulties
  • headaches
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • memory and concentration problems, which people sometimes refer to as “fibro fog”

Doctors do not fully understand what causes fibromyalgia.

Treatment

Treatment typically involves a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, including:

  • OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • prescription medications, including antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs
  • regular exercise
  • stress reduction and relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat depression

Arteriovenous malformations

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are tangled or abnormally shaped blood vessels that typically occur in the brain or spinal cord but can develop anywhere in the body. These malformations can affect blood flow and, depending on their size and location, can cause a range of symptoms that can vary in severity.

Symptoms can include:

  • back pain or weakness in the legs
  • headaches
  • seizures
  • numbness, tingling, and pain
  • loss of coordination
  • dizziness
  • problems with vision
  • memory problems or confusion
  • speech problems

Doctors do not fully understand the cause of AVMs but believe that they typically form during fetal development.

Treatments

Treatment approaches for AVMs depend upon the location of malformation and the severity of the person’s symptoms. Sometimes, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove or cut off the blood supply to the AVM.

Spinal infections

man holding lower back
A tingling sensation in the back may be a symptom of spinal infection.

Spinal infections can occur following surgery, or as a complication of other conditions, such as infections, fractures, wounds from injuries, cancer, diabetes, and HIV.

The infection can irritate or damage the nerves. Symptoms can include:

  • back pain and stiffness
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • muscle weakness or spasms
  • fever and chills
  • redness in the affected area

Treatment

Treatment for a spinal infection depends on the cause but can include antibiotics and antiviral or antifungal medications. A doctor may recommend surgery for people with severe infections or if there is damage to the spine.

Spinal cord tumor

A spinal tumor is an abnormal growth that can develop on the spinal cord. These tumors can either be benign or malignant. Benign tumors do not invade surrounding tissues, whereas malignant, or cancerous, tumors can spread to other parts of the body.

These tumors can cause problems when they press on the spinal cord. Symptoms depend on the location of the tumor but can include:

  • back pain
  • numbness or tingling
  • weakness or lack of coordination in the legs or arms
  • reduced sensitivity pain or temperature
  • bladder and bowel problems

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size, type, and location of the tumor. However, a doctor will usually recommend surgery to remove the tumor. Other treatment options can include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

When to see a doctor

A person should see a doctor if tingling in the back is severe, does not resolve within a few days, or occurs along with other concerning symptoms.

People with tingling in the back should seek immediate medical attention if they also have any of the following symptoms:

  • loss of bowel and bladder function
  • loss of coordination or difficulty using the arms or legs
  • sudden, severe pain and numbness down one or both legs

Summary

Experiencing an occasional tingling sensation is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, persistent or recurring tingling sensations in the back can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Causes can include infections, spinal problems, injuries, fibromyalgia, and vascular malformations.

A person should see a doctor if they experience severe tingling in the back, the tingling lasts more than a few days, or they also have other concerning symptoms.

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