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Tingling Sensation in Back: What Does It Mean?

A tingling sensation in back is often caused by nerve entrapment. However, there are a few other reasons for why it can happen.

Most people describe this feeling as a type of “burning” or “pins and needles” sensation. The official term that doctors use is paresthesia.

This symptom can sometimes start as a small tingle, then escalate to numbness and even chronic burning.

All of causes can be traced back to a sensory nerve that’s been injured, diseases, or damaged.

Possible Causes

tingling sensation in back

The cause of this symptom depends on its exact location. A common cause is nerve entrapment.

If a nerve becomes “trapped” in a particular position, it can cause tingling, burning, and pain.

Some conditions that affect nerves include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and neuropathy.

If you have this symptom in multiple locations, and it’s chronic, then multiple sclerosis is a possibility.

In this case, you’ll want to contact your doctor. While this symptom is quite annoying, it can also be a sign of an underlying medical problem.

Here are some other possibilities:

  • Sciatica
  • Cold
  • Peripheral Nerve Compression
  • Back Injury
  • Peripheral Nerve Trauma

If you haven’t been using good posture when sitting then this can cause nerves in the back to become trapped, leading to tingling.

If you’re young, healthy, and don’t have a family history of multiple sclerosis, then it’s likely that you’ve just got a compressed nerve.

Bottom Line: Back tingling can be due to a back injury, a pinched nerve, sciatica, or physical trauma.

Diagnosing a Tingling Sensation in Back

talking with doctor

How do you diagnose paresthesia?

First, your doctor will go through your family medical history, as well as diagnose any other symptoms that you’re currently having.

They may also do a complete physical exam, and in some cases, a neurological exam.

A popular way to test neurologic function is an EMG (Electromyography). This test analyzes electrical activity within muscles.

Your doctor may also give a nerve conduction test, which measures the nerve’s ability to send an electrical signal.

Both tests can be used to determine if you have a pinched or entrapped nerve.

If they suspect that your tingling sensation in back is something serious, they may prescribe further tests including a CT scan, X-ray, or MRI. They might also draw blood and take a urine sample.

Bottom Line: Paresthesia of the back can cause you to feel tingling 24/7. An EMG can help doctors determine what you have.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Most people don’t realize that this symptom can be attributed to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Vitamin B12 is very important for normal physiologic function. From synthesizing red blood cells to building DNA, you need it to operate.

vitamin b12 purpose

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 can’t be made by the body. The only way to get it is through animal-based foods.

The exact amount that you need is dependent on your age, your lifestyle, and the types of medications you’re taking (if any).

Note, if you are a vegan, then you will need to supplement with vitamin B12. There are not plan-based sources of B12.

Bottom Line: If you’re experiencing tingling in the back, then it might be due to a deficiency in vitamin B12.

What Causes a Vitamin B12 Deficiency?

If you feel that certain areas of your back are burning or tingling, then a Vitamin B12 deficiency shouldn’t be ruled out. What causes it?

Aside from not getting enough if your diet, here are some reasons for this deficiency:

  • Pernicious Anemia: This makes it difficult for your body to properly absorb vitamin B12.
  • Atrophic Gastritis: A condition in which your stomach lining begins to shrink.
  • Heavy Drinking: Drinking too much alcohol can cause a vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Immune Disorders: Diseases like lupus or Graves’ disease can be a cause.

Additionally, a tingling sensation in back can be caused by the use of long-term acid-reducing drugs. Most people don’t realize that stomach acid is actually a good thing.

It helps kill bacteria, and more importantly, breaks down animal protein (which contains vitamin B12). Without enough stomach acid, you could become deficient in this important vitamin.

Bottom Line: A deficiency in vitamin B12 can be the result of gastritis, anemia, or immune disorders.

Are You a Vegan?

It’s quite common for vegans to have problems maintaining a high vitamin B12. That’s because vegans don’t consume any animal products- eggs, cheese, milk, meat, etc.

If you are a vegan, you will need to find another way to supplement. Taking B12 supplements is the easiest and most practical solution.

Will going a few days without B12 kill you? No, however, the symptoms can become noticeable after a few months to a few years when your iron stores run low.

Also, remember that just because you eat animal products, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Meat eaters get diagnosed with this deficiency all the time. This is why everyone should get their B12 levels tested regularly.

Bottom Line: Both vegans and meat eaters should get their B12 levels tested once per year.

If It’s Caused by a Trapped Nerve

Pinched Nerve

If the pins and needle feeling in your back is being caused by a trapped nerve, you have some options.

The amount of time it takes for the symptom to end will vary from person to person.

It really depends on the severity of your trapped nerve. Our first recommendation is to take it easy. Avoid doing any activities that might make your symptoms worse.

In most cases, that’s all you’ll need to do. If it doesn’t go away, or if it gets worse, you’ll need to see a doctor.

If it turns out that there’s something pressing against the nerve- like pieces of bone, scar tissue, or disc material- surgery may be required.

Other treatments for a tingling sensation in back include:

  • NSAIDs: Known as “Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs”, these drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.) can be taken to reduce swelling.
  • Oral Corticosteroids: Like NSAIDs, these are also used to help reduce swelling as well as decrease pain.
  • Steroid Injections: To allow an inflamed nerve to recover, your doctor may give you a steroid injection.

Make sure to talk with your doctor to see what the best approach to treating your symptom is.

In many cases, the symptom will go away on its own. But if it doesn’t, the above treatments may be required.

Bottom Line: You can treat the pain with steroid injections, oral corticosteroids, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Is it Multiple Sclerosis?

The majority of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have their initial symptoms between 20 and 40. Typically, the symptoms get better, but end up coming back.

Some remain chronic, while others are never experienced again. Here are some early symptoms of MS to keep track of:

  • Thinking problems
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Double vision
  • Weakness in a leg or arm

No two people will end up experiencing the exact same symptoms. For some people, the symptoms can become worse in a matter of months. In others, it can take many years. It really depends on the individual.

Conclusion

Don’t panic if your tingling doesn’t go away. The odds are that it’s a trapped nerve caused by not sitting properly or some other cause.

You don’t really need to see a doctor unless the symptom is becoming worse, or if it’s been several weeks and your tingling sensation in back hasn’t gone away.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist who can look further into the problem and hopefully come up with a more accurate diagnosis.

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