Arms, Thumb Numbness from Overhead Squats

OHSApparently this is a thing that happens to people. A lot of Crossfit people out there getting numb from overhead squats and posting about it on comment threads.  First things first.  This is a very challenging lift.  Its a very technical lift, and you also have to have good mobility, especially in your hips and shoulders.  I’ve been improving a lot in having a deeper squat, and hips flexibility, but my problems with it are exacerbated with the OHS.  Here and here are some good articles I found with proper technique and tackling mobility issues.

The beginning of the class always goes over fundamentals, and while I can lift a fair amount with deadlift and squat, the OHS was a new lift for me.  Even just using PVC pipe to practice technique with, my arms starting going numb.  It was a weird feeling.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  I was already frustrated with myself, since the trainer singled me out to keep using the PVC pipe and then the small 15 pound bar to practice on, even as everyone else went to grab a weight bar to finish out the 10×5 sets.   So when I noticed my arms and hands going numb, I thought it must be that my arms were falling asleep and that it would go away soon.  My thumbs were especially numb, and the majority of my hands and arms were tingling, all the way up to my shoulders.

My first panic was then that I was developing Guillain-Barré syndrome and that my body would soon become paralyzed.  Was I having a stroke? No, not with both sides of the body affected..   I was also worried I hurt something from doing deadlift the day before.  I went up to 165lb, and had previously been training with 145.  But that also didn’t make sense to have a delayed onset injury, at least not to be activated so suddenly and intensely. I was having trouble gripping things, and hand eye coordination due to the intense numbness was affected – even drinking out of my water bottle was a challenge.  I finished the workout, as the exercises we did after that for the WOD didn’t require much grip, although burpees are much harder on numb arms.    I knew I must have done something during the practice lifts.  But with no weight at all?  How was that even possible?  I then googled it when I got home, and there are a ton of threads about this exact same thing.

Many comment threads were referring to a specific blog post about how and why it occurs.  However, there doesn’t seem to be any actual medical material about it, or even articles on established weight lifting websites.  According to the blog, it is likely due to compression of the C6 nerve root.  (That disc perturbing along your neck).  My symptoms appear in line with other data I looked up on complications with the C6 nerve, although I don’t have any pain, so a herniated disc, or even a pinched nerve seems to go too far to describe what I’m experiencing.

I decided to wait it out and see what happens.  I don’t’ really like to go to the doctor unless I’m sure its serious, recognizing that by the time something gets to that stage, it will be even more problematic.  However.   It’s been nearly two days, the numbing has gone down substantially, but is still there.  My right hand thumb is still very numb, and my arms are still a bit tingly, especially my triceps.  Some comments on the above linked blog say that their thumb was numb for up to two weeks.  I hope not.   And just to note, I was doing these incorrectly, hence the problems.

Update:  It did take about two full weeks for all of the numbness to go away.  My triceps and thumbs were numb the longest, and the thumb for at least 3-4 days longer than everything else.

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About Musings over Coffee

Fitness enthusiast. Love to travel, mess up recipes, ponder random things, get riled up about the news, all of which nearly always coinciding with one of my favorite things in the world: Coffee.
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4 Responses to Arms, Thumb Numbness from Overhead Squats

  1. Jared Carr says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I experienced the numbness/funny bone feel during my first OHS. I’m 15 weeks (3 days a week) into my training and last Tuesday started to learn the OHS technique. We spend 25 minutes just practicing the form with a 35 lb bar. A week later I still had numbness in my thumbs and a little on my forearms. I visited a chiropractor for the first time in my life. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t done anything serious. After x-rays and some tests, both doctors agreed that there was nothing serious and not overly concerned with the numbness. They both said “it is likely due to compression of the C6 nerve root”. Also, after reading several posts online, I realized I wasn’t alone. It’s Thursday and I still have numbness in end of thumbs. I’m staying out of the gym for at least a week, and easing back in with a PVC pipe…paying a little closer attention to technique. Thanks again for taking the time to post your experience!

  2. thisot says:

    Likewise, exact same symptoms a day later and I’m worried but reading this helps, guess I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks…

    • Musings over Coffee says:

      Right?? These seems to happen to so many people I know, yet I still have yet to find credible sources addressing what the root cause is.

  3. Rave D says:

    Thanks for sharing. Glad to know I’m not alone here. It’s been 5 days since the numbness began and it still lingers. I’ll wait it out but my main concern how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ve been told to focus on shoulder mobility. Patience and I need to make peace with the fact that it’s ok to go lighter on the weights and focus on technique.

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