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ben's avatar

Why does deep breathing make my feet and hands tingle?

Asked by ben (7994 points ) December 2nd, 2008

I was doing some deep breathing in the bath the other day when I noticed after about 10 breaths my feet and hands were really tingling. I’m sure it has to do with circulation, but it seems like it should tingle when I have less oxygen. Any explanations?

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6 Answers

shilolo's avatar

You are experiencing the symptoms of hyperventilation (look at the central nervous system symptoms – paresthesias mean numbness and tingling). You may also experience tingling around your mouth in addition to your hands and feet.

Basically, you are overbreathing, and releasing too much carbon dioxide from your breath (one of the primary functions of breathing is to release carbon dioxide, in addition to inhaling oxygen). When your blood CO2 becomes too low, less blood is delivered to your brain, leading to the major central nervous system effects. Further, the effects of reducing blood CO2 is to raise blood pH, which affects blood and tissue calcium levels (and ionization), which is why you feel the numbness and tingling.

If you relax, slow down, and take normal breaths, your body will compensate quickly. Or, you’ll pass out (which is what happens when people hyperventilate), and when passed out, your body will correct itself.

Edit: I modified it a bit. Also, don’t pass out in the tub…

ben's avatar

@shilolo Thanks! That explains it very logicially.

joeysefika's avatar

@Shilolo, are you also over oxygenating your blood?

asmonet's avatar

Shi beat me to it. My face, hands and feet tingle when I hyperventilate during panic attacks. No worries. :)

lifeflame's avatar

From the Eastern perspective, you may be just circulating your chi (運氣).

When students get more advanced in tai chi or qigong, they often start feeling some tingling in their fingers and toes. They may also feel some heat radiating out from their palms.

Now, if you try too hard to breath deeply, you will hyperventilate (and it has happened to me before), but if it is a relaxed deep belly breathing (at a similar place how you breath when you sleep) it can be very calming and comfortable.

Not sure according to Western medicine why the engagement of chi should create heat or tingling, but the Chinese would say that your energetic pathways are blocked, and the tingling is from the the chi clearing through the meridian paths.

I was busy with theatre work last week, and didn’t practice any tai chi. So when I returned to it on Tuesday and just stood there in a tree-stance my body was all heat and prickles.

MissA's avatar

Sometimes when your body has been oxygen deprived (circulatory problems), when it finally gets that much needed oxygen, nerves come alive and you experience the tingling.

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