ants in hands

Ants in the hands: 6 possible causes (and what to do?)

Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine 

You have ants in your hands that bother you. They can appear at night, upon waking, or even at rest. Where do they come from? How to relieve them? And above all, how to avoid them? This article explains 6 possible causes of tingling in the hands, and gives you concrete solutions to treat them.


What best describes ants in hands?

It is a numbness characterized by a loss of feeling in one (or both) hand. It generally follows the course of a nerve (median nerve, radial nerve or ulnar nerve). Sometimes numbness presents symmetrically in both hands.

Often this numbness is accompanied by feelings of paresthesia, tingling, burning or tingling. Additionally, the fingers of the affected hand may feel clumsy or weak. For example, ants in the right hand can bother you when drinking your coffee in the morning. It is the same for the ants in the left hand if you are left-handed (era).

dexterity affected by ants in the hands
Fine dexterity may be affected by ants in the hands.

Depending on the cause, these paresthesias can appear in the morning, in front of the computer, or even while holding the phone. Ants in the fingers at night represents another particularly unpleasant situation. Even worse, ants in the fingers of the hand sometimes appear for no reason!

Their duration is also variable, ranging from a few seconds to an almost constant sensation.

Precisely, what are the causes of tingling in the hands? The following section explains 6 potential causes, in the form of categories.

6 Possible Causes of Ants in Hands

The causes of ants in the hands are more complex than one might think. This is because several anatomical structures can indirectly cause these paresthesias.

In addition to physical damage, other elements can cause these symptoms. These sensations can be the consequence of an infection, a drug, or even a state of mind!

We have separated the causes in order to facilitate understanding:

1. Brain damage

Brain damage can be the cause of ants in the hands. This is because the central nervous system sends sensory messages to the extremities (including pain, general sensation, and tingling).

brain damage causing ants in the hands

Here are conditions where sufferers sometimes complain of ants in the hands:

Most often, these conditions related to the central nervous system will already be known to the patient. If this is not the case, you should know that they are often accompanied by symptoms constituting medical emergencies such as:

  • Paresthesias in other areas of the body
  • Paralysis
  • Speech disorders
  • Incontinence

2. Cervical involvement

La cervical spine is composed of 7 vertebrae superimposed. On each side there are spinal nerves which descend along the upper limbs to provide sensation and force.

cervical spinal nerves causing ants in the hands

If one of the nerve roots is irritated, suboptimal electrical conduction can result down to the fingers. The nerves often affected are the median, radial or ulnar nerve).

It is to this extent that ants in the hands can be felt when suffering from:

3. Traumatic injury and overuse

It is not only referred damage that characterizes ants in the hands. Sometimes, a traumatic local attack can also cause these paresthesias. This is the case, for example, of frostbite that affect nerve endings.

frostbite causing ants in houses
Frostbite can cause ants in the hands (Source)

Also, the nerves that originate from the vertebral column give way to peripheral nerves. These nerves, when irritated at the elbow or wrist, can cause ants in the hands. This is the case of the famous carpal tunnel, and its (lesser known) counterpart the ulnar canal.

The conditions associated with these impairments are carpal tunnel syndrome, and ulnar tunnel syndrome.

peripheral nerves responsible for ants in the hands

Finally, any operation involving an incision can damage superficial nerves and cause ants in the hands. Often this sensation is temporary and heals over time.

Thus, the traumatic and overuse causes causing ants in the hands are:

  • frostbite
  • After an operation
  • Insect bite (Lyme disease)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (compression of the median nerve at the wrist)
  • Ulnar canal syndrome (compression of the ulnar nerve at the wrist)
  • Epicondylitis

Focus on carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome deserves special attention because it is a common cause of ants in the hands. This is even more true if you have manual or computer work.

In addition to unsuitable postures, carpal tunnel syndrome occurs in the presence of hormonal dysfunction (diabetes, menopause, etc.), or if there are deformities or joint diseases in the wrist.

This condition is manifested by compression of the median nerve at the wrist. As this nerve provides sensation in the hand (like the thumb, index, middle and part of the ring finger), carpal tunnel syndrome can cause numbness in the first fingers.

In addition to tingling in the fingers, carpal tunnel syndrome can also be responsible for weakness, loss of coordination and fine dexterity, or pain in the wrist and forearm region.

4. Chronic conditions

Some chronic conditions can affect the nervous system and circulation. For instance, alcoholism disrupts the connections between neurons, causing possible paresthesias.

alcoholism responsible for ants in the hands

Nerve damage is also a common complication of diabetes, and is referred to as “diabetic neuropathy”. A consequence is often tingling in the hands.

Other chronic conditions can cause ants in the hands:

  • Raynauld syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism
  • vasculitis
  • fibromyalgia
  • Lupus

5. Infectious conditions

To add to the complexity of the diagnosis, you should know that an infection can also cause tingling in the hands.

Here is a list of infections that sometimes cause paresthesia:

  • Neighborhood
  • Herpes

6. Others

It is not only an anatomical impairment that can cause ants in the hands.

Often, medications or deficiencies can cause these reactions. It is the same for stressful events which sometimes somatize in the form of paresthesias.

drugs causing ants in the hands as side effects

Here is a series of conditions or situations that could be responsible for tingling in the hands:

  • Stress and anxiety attack
  • Side effects of certain medications (antiepileptics, antibiotics, high blood pressure medications, etc.)
  • During chemotherapy
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency (vegetarian diet and veganism)
  • Deficiency in calcium, sodium, potassium
  • Pregnancy and postpartum
ants in hands infographics


Clarification of diagnosis

The first thing to do in order to be able to relieve ants in the hands is to first identify the cause.

stethoscope which represents a medical consultation

Obviously !

Indeed, by providing treatment without knowing where the paresthesias come from, we can “miss the mark”, or even worse, make the symptoms worse.

For example, doing massages or hand mobilizations will not help if the ants are caused by diabetes (diabetic neuropathy) or a condition like multiple sclerosis .

Note, however, that it is not always easy to make a diagnosis that clearly explains the tingling in the hands. This comes mainly from the many causes and factors that can influence these paresthesias.

Thus, a health professional will begin with an exhaustive questionnaire and a clinical examination to better identify the symptoms. This includes:

  • a review of the associated conditions
  • a review of injury history
  • questions about symptoms (frequency, intensity, duration, times of day, etc.)
  • the repercussions on daily life and function (work, sports, etc.)
  • questions about stress and anxiety

If cervical involvement is suspected, a clinical examination will be performed, including neck movements.

Tests and clinical examination

Here is a test that can reproduce ants in the fingers if the origin of the symptoms comes from the cervical region:

spurling test to clarify ants in hands
Spurling's test (source)

In addition, if it is considered to be irritation of a nerve root, myotome tests will be carried out to identify the origin of the radiculopathy at the level of the cervical spine. The following are examples of tests performed during the clinical examination:

myotome to explain ants in hands
Myotomes aimed at clarifying the diagnosis (Source)

If a peripheral nerve is thought to be causing the tingling in the hands, nerve mobility tests will be done to identify the problematic nerve (median, radial or ulnar nerve compression). Here are tests often performed in the clinic:

nerve stress test to explain ants in hands
Nerve stress tests help clarify the diagnosis (Source)

For people who have ants in the fingers after using the computer, we want to exclude compression of the median nerve typically irritated in the presence of carpal tunnel. Here is a test that often reproduces the symptoms:

phalen test to explain ants in hands
Phalen's test is useful when carpal tunnel is suspected (Source)

Finally, a blood test and examinations ofmedical imaging will also clarify the diagnosis. Often, MRI is more accurate than X-rays and CT scans because it can look at soft tissues (like muscles, peripheral nerves, ligaments, etc.).

An electromyogram (EMG) can observe nerve conduction in the upper limbs, and determine if a particular nerve is responsible for the ants in the hands.

A Doppler (or angiogram) makes it possible to observe the blood circulation, and makes it possible to determine if the tingling in the hands would be due to a circulatory disorder.

Treatment and prevention

As mentioned previously, an accurate diagnosis will provide appropriate and effective treatment.

On the other hand, since the diagnosis is not always easy to issue, it is possible that the doctor will go there by trial and error to determine if a particular change relieves the ants in the hands.

trial and error diagnosis of ants in hands

For example, if the tingling is thought to be due to a vitamin B12 deficiency, an intake to normalize the B12 level could be attempted over a few weeks. If a positive change is observed in this medical prescription, it means that the diagnosis was correct.

If it is believed that the cause is mechanical, we can do an appropriate treatment in physiotherapy (physiotherapy) or osteopathy and generally observe favorable results.

How to relieve and avoid tingling in the hands?

Treatment may therefore include (depending on the diagnosis):

  • Medication (like Lyrica), or revision of the medication already prescribed
  • heat and ice to calm potential inflammation (in the form of pockets, or baths)
  • Cervical tractions
  • Vertebral mobilizations
  • Nerve mobilizations median, radial or ulnar nerve
  • Electrotherapy
  • Dietary supplements (such as vitamin B12)
  • Meditation, exercises of breathing et anti-stress accessories (if stress is involved)
  • Sports adaptation (e.g. the handlebars on a bicycle)
  • Homeopathy (a form of alternative medicine mostly based on empiricism)
  • Alternative medicine (cupping, acupuncture, etc.)
  • Infiltrations
  • surgery
  • Workstation adaptation and posture modification
  • neck pain accessories (if the cervical region is responsible for the symptoms)

Parmi les accessoires recommandés, on compte les suivants. Il faut toutefois noter que ces produits ne traiteront pas forcément la cause du problème, bien qu’ils puissent soulager les symptômes et améliorer la sensation de bien-être :

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treatment of ants in the hands

Again, the choice of treatment will depend on each patient and their condition. It is essential that a health professional makes a diagnosis beforehand.

What about natural remedies?

Although they are not supported by solid scientific evidence, several natural products et remèdes de grand-mère sont utilisés pour traiter diverses maux corporels, notamment pour leur pouvoir anti-inflammatoire.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of plants and essential oils that are effective in controlling pain and inflammation:

  • Turmeric : Thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers very powerful, turmeric is one of the most used plants in a culinary and therapeutic context. The composition of turmeric is essentially made of essential oils, vitamins (B1, B2, B6, C, E, K) and trace elements. But it is to its composition rich in curcumin and curcuminoids that we owe them and calm skin of this spice.
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Ants in the hands is a condition that can cause concern, especially when it limits daily activities or sleep.

There are many potential causes of paresthesias, and treatment must at all costs be based on a complete and accurate diagnosis.

Once the cause is identified, it is much easier to find solutions to this problem. A qualified healthcare professional will be able to guide you through this process.

Good recovery !

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