Hand cramps are typically a brief side effect of overusing your hands, such as after scrawling pages of notes during an arduous organic chemistry lesson or typing furiously to complete a quarterly report.
“It is all too easy to overstrain the hand muscles when typing, writing, or using a cell phone. Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, co-founder and chief medical officer of Clearing, explains that injuries and overuse can spread inflammatory chemicals throughout the hands, causing cramping.
But recurrent hand cramping without a clear reason can be more than a minor inconvenience. They may cause persistent pain and discomfort and eventually begin to interfere with your daily life.
Read on to discover four medical causes of hand cramps and a few ways to obtain relief.
“In my experience, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are the most common causes of muscle cramps,” says Dr. Mike Sevilla, a family physician at The Family Practice Center of Salem.
Dehydration occurs when your body lacks sufficient water to operate normally, such as when you don’t drink enough water, lose excessive fluid via activity, or endure chronic vomiting and diarrhea during an illness.
If you are dehydrated, you may have hand cramps because your muscles lose the right balance of water and electrolytes.
Electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, and potassium affect numerous cellular functions, including how your muscles contract and relax; therefore, electrolyte loss due to dehydration can result in cramps in your hands and arms, legs and feet, and belly.
In addition to hand and other muscle cramps, dehydration can cause:
Next Steps: You can prevent dehydration and lessen hand cramps by drinking sufficient water and electrolyte-rich liquids throughout the day, such as coconut water, sports drinks, or Pedialyte.
Experts recommend daily consumption of between 11.5 and 15.5 cups of water. This advice includes the water you obtain from the food you consume; in general, roughly 20% of your daily fluid intake comes from food, while the remaining 80% comes from water.
You are drinking enough water during the day if you rarely feel thirsty, if your urine is pale yellow to clear, and if your hand cramps diminish.
Diabetes, a disorder that impairs the body’s utilization of insulin, can induce cramps throughout the body. These cramps typically affect the legs, but they can also affect the hands.
Insulin governs the amount of glucose — also known as blood sugar — that your cells can use for energy, therefore diabetes can affect numerous bodily systems.
Specific causes of diabetes-related hand cramping include:
Additionally, if you have uncontrolled diabetes, you will suffer the following symptoms:
excessive thirst and hunger
Weakness, impatience, and/or other mood changes
Diabetes can result in diabetic cheiroarthropathy, a disorder that causes hand cramping and thickening of the skin of the hands. This disorder, commonly known as stiff hand syndrome, affects approximately 30-40% of diabetics.
Additional signs of stiff hand syndrome include:
Inability to fully extend or flex your fingers
Reduced grip strength Impaired fine motor skills
Difficulty performing daily activities
The “prayer sign” is a distinguishing diagnostic test for diabetic stiff hand syndrome: When you place your palms together in front of you, your fingers will not fully meet because they are unable to fully straighten.
What should be done: Typically, treating hand cramps caused by diabetes begins with blood sugar management. Two essential measures you may take to maintain a better grip on your blood sugar are:
3. Carpal tunnel syndrome
In addition to discomfort and numbness in the hands, carpal tunnel syndrome can also cause cramping.
Inflammation and swelling of the tendons in the wrist can cause compression of the median nerve at the wrist-to-hand junction. This irritation may result in carpal tunnel syndrome.
Other symptoms that frequently worsen at night include:
Hand, thumb, and the first three fingers experience numbness and tingling.
Symptoms of hand, wrist, and elbow pain
Lack of strength in your hand
Decreased hand movements coordination
The following are risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome:
Carpal tunnel stenosis, which may run in families, can increase the likelihood of getting carpal tunnel syndrome.
Repetitive hand actions, such as typing, writing, or using tools, can cause the tendons in the wrist to bulge and compress the median nerve.
Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy might lead to swelling and pressure on the median nerve.
If you have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, you should contact your healthcare provider. They are able to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome and suggest the appropriate treatment, which may include:
Injections of steroids: Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, might assist reduce swelling in the tendons of the wrist, which may alleviate median nerve compression.
A wrist splint: Wearing a wrist splint at night to immobilize your wrist may help alleviate mild to moderate carpal tunnel symptoms within weeks.
Carpal tunnel release is a quick outpatient surgical treatment involving the cutting of a fibrous band on the flexor retinaculum or inside of the wrist to relieve pressure on the median nerve.
Focused hand dystonia
Focal hand dystonia is a neurological condition characterized by hand spasms and cramping.
According to experts, this condition is caused by a dysfunction in the nerves that transmit impulses between the brain and the muscles.
At first, focal hand dystonia impairs coordination. Over time, you might also develop:
A hand position that is immobile Muscle ache
Focal dystonia is most prevalent between the ages of 40 and 60, and women are three times more likely to develop it than males. Approximately 10% of persons with focal dystonia have a family history of the disorder, so your genes may possibly play a role.
Although focal hand dystonia can cause your hand to cramp or move uncontrollably throughout the day, you are more likely to have task-specific focal dystonia, which manifests as cramping when performing activities that demand fine motor control.
The following types of task-specific dystonias can affect the hand:
This type of dystonia can cause your hands to curl, cramp, or tremor involuntary while playing instruments such as the piano or guitar.
Initial symptoms of writer’s cramp include a tight grip on the pen while writing. Eventually, hand spasms and cramps might render your handwriting practically illegible.
The “shakes:” Hascalovici explains that athletes, notably golfers and tennis players, may experience “the yips,” a form of task-specific dystonia characterized by involuntary wrist jerking and hand and arm cramping.
You may also suffer task-specific dystonia with other jobs that involve repetitive motion and fine motor control, such as if you are a hairdresser, shoemaker, or typist who uses a computer mouse regularly.
There is no cure for focal hand dystonia, but the correct treatment can lessen spasms and cramping and prevent your symptoms from worsening.
Possible treatments include:
A doctor may administer anticholinergics like trihexyphenidyl, muscle relaxants like baclofen, benzodiazepines like clonazepam, and dopamine agonists like carbidopa and levodopa to treat muscle spasms and cramping.
Botox: Botox muscle injections can block nerve signals that cause spasms and hand cramps. About half of individuals will have symptom improvement for an average of six months.
Sensorimotor retraining: Sometimes, task-specific dystonia can be alleviated by slightly modifying how you regularly perform an activity. “A person with writer’s dystonia, for instance, could test a different pen grip to see if their symptoms improve,” adds Hascalovici. Other examples include the use of thicker pens or gloves when playing the violin.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure that may be recommended by your doctor if no other therapies have been effective. During DBS, electrodes are implanted into the brain to assist manage the regions of the brain responsible for focal hand dystonia symptoms.
You may experience hand cramps from time to time, especially if your work or leisure hobbies involve a great deal of fine motions. Typically, taking a break or switching up your routine can give relief.
However, if you experience recurring hand cramping for no apparent reason, you may want to consult a physician. They can assess you for any underlying medical causes and recommend next steps to alleviate your pain or suffering.