Teaching your child

Pins and needles sensation warns about blood flow

Pins and needles sensation warns about blood flow

August 09, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"What makes our feet fall asleep?"

My son asked the question while gingerly walking through the kitchen, pausing to grimace after every other step.

Obviously, he had a vested interest in this answer.

One foot was asleep and the other was, shall we say, awake.

"Well, it probably has something to do with the way you were sitting," I replied.

Sometimes we sit or lie in a way that there's pressure against an artery, says Dr. Mark Roemer, a podiatrist with Podiatry Associates in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, W.Va. This compromises circulation - it cuts off the blood supply to the leg.

The restriction of blood flow prevents nerve cells, which are connected to touch sensors in the skin, from working efficiently, explains Judy Galens and Nancy Pear in "The Handy Answer Book for Kids (and Parents)."


"Nerves need blood just like other tissues," Roemer says. "All tissues in our body need blood flow."

Numbness occurs because nerves lack the oxygen they need to function. Oxygen is carried in the blood.

So what's the best remedy if your foot falls asleep? Get up and walk.

(Or just hobble until you can walk.)

Even though it might cause some discomfort, walking helps blood come back to your limbs quicker than if you just rubbed your foot or stood still on it, Roemer says.

The discomfort you initially feel - that prickly, tingly, "pins and needles" feeling - is caused by the nerves waking up as the blood flow returns to your foot.

Nerve cells are sending messages to your brain, signaling that something is wrong with your circulation, Galens and Pear explain. But by that time your limb is on its way to working normally again. The prickly feeling soon disappears as circulation returns.

It is an uncomfortable process, but it's actually beneficial, according to's Mysteries of the Universe Health page. If we didn't feel discomfort, we wouldn't adjust our position - and harm could result.

"Your foot falling asleep for 10 minutes doesn't pose any health threat, but if you were to cut off circulation for an extended period of time - several hours - you could suffer serious nerve damage," according to "The initial tingling sensation tells you that you might want to readjust your position."

A few weeks ago I mentioned Tierra del Fuego, islands near Cape Horn off the coast of South America.

The name means "Land of Fire." My son had questioned why that name was chosen since the area is near to Antarctica. I talked to the author of a book my son was reading, and he mentioned that there has been volcanic activity on the island.

Janet Roberts of Hagerstown wrote to offer another reason for the name.

About 18 months ago, Roberts and her husband took a trip to Tierra del Fuego and from there a ship to Antarctica.

It seems the islands at one time were inhabited by very scantily clad Indians who burned fires constantly to keep themselves warm. When Magellan discovered the land in 1520 and saw the fires burning, he named it Tierra del Fuego. Roberts said she found her information in a "very old" World Book Encyclopedia.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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