- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- Nerve and muscle effects
Nerve and muscle effects
Some drugs can cause tingling (“pins and needles”), numbness or pain in your fingers and/or toes, and muscle weakness in your legs. This is called peripheral neuropathy. It is caused by damage to the nerves that send signals between the central nervous system and the arms and legs.
For many people, peripheral neuropathy is a short-term issue, but for others, it can last a long time or even be permanent. If you experience numbness and tingling, tell your doctor or nurse before your next treatment. Your treatment may need to be changed or the problem carefully monitored.
Tips for managing numb hands or feet
- Take care when moving around – you may be more prone to trip and fall if your feet are numb or your legs are weak.
- Use gloves and warm socks to keep your hands and feet warm, or soak your hands and feet in warm water to relieve symptoms.
- Use your elbow to check water temperature so you don’t scald yourself.
- Talk to an occupational therapist from your treatment team about aids that may help, e.g. posts to raise the sheets off your feet if they’re irritated by the weight of the sheets.
- Some treatment centres offer ice mitts to help reduce peripheral neuropathy. If you are interested in trying these, ask your treatment centre if they are available and how much they cost.
- If your symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor about medicines that may offer relief.
Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Julie Bolton, Consumer; Keely Gordon-King, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; John Jameson, Consumer; Dr Zarnie Lwin, Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Felicia Roncolato, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment