It is not uncommon for individuals who have been writing for long periods of time, or typing at a computer all day, to experience hand cramps after a while. Nor is it uncommon for individuals who have been working with tools, such as hammers, drills or jackhammers, for extended periods of time to experience muscle spasms in their hands.
However, what is uncommon is for the hand or hands to ache at random times of the day when they're not in use, or for the hand to spasm throughout the day. If your hands constantly ache, or if you experience muscle spasms at random, your problem may extend deeper than mere overuse. This guide will explore the causes of cramps in the hand, treatments and prevention.
What Is a Hand Cramps?
A hand cramp occurs when one or more muscles in the hand contract at will. This type of contraction is called a spasm, but when that spasm lasts for an extended period of time, it is referred to as a cramp.
The majority of muscle cramps last for just a few seconds, but more intense cramps can continue for as long as 15 minutes. In extreme cases, they can last even longer. It is not uncommon for them to recur multiple times before ceasing altogether.
A cramp may involve all of the muscle, part of the muscle, or several muscles, such as those that control the fingers.
Symptoms of Muscle Cramping
The symptoms and signs of hand cramps are fairly obvious. If you experience a hand cramp, you will know because one or more of the following will occur:
- Local pain
- Firmness of the involved muscle
Common and Not-So-Common Causes of Muscle Cramping
Typically, a muscle spasm is the result of a misfire between the brain, spinal cord and muscles. Specific chemicals and proteins are involved in muscle contraction and are responsible for the shortening and relaxation of muscle fibers. On a typical day, the brain signals the muscles to contract through a process of chemical and electrical signals. The spinal cord delivers that message to the muscles, which do as instructed without a problem.
However, every once in a while, there will be an interruption in this process, and something will go wrong between what is known as the shortening and relaxing stages. When this happens, cramping occurs. The brain usually sorts out the mess fairly quickly, but depending on the underlying cause, it could take a few minutes up to a quarter of an hour.
There are some common causes of the misfire between brain and muscle. Those include:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Overuse of muscles
- Diabetic stiff hand syndrome
- Exercising in high temperatures
- Nerve Compression: Spinal stenosis, which is the compression of nerves in your spine, can produce cramp-like wrist Pain in your joints. The pain typically worsens as you continue to use the affected joint or joints.
- Inadequate Blood Supply: The narrowing of arteries that deliver blood to your arms and hands can result in cramping in the arms and hands while you're exercising. These cramps typically fade once you're done exercising.
- Mineral Depletion: If you lack certain minerals in your diet, such as calcium, potassium or magnesium, you may experience involuntary cramping. Certain medications, such as diuretics, may be responsible for the depletion of these minerals.
Risk Factors for Muscle Cramps
Your cramps cause severe disco.Anyone is prone to hand cramps, but some people are more likely to experience chronic cramping than others. For instance, those who have low blood levels of magnesium, calcium, potassium or vitamins B1, B5 or B6, are more prone to cramping than those with normal blood levels. Additionally, those who take certain medications are chronically dehydrated or who routinely exercise in the heat are prone to hand cramping as well. Some additional risk factors include:
- Age: As people become older, they tend to lose muscle mass. As a result, muscles can become over stressed more easily and therefore, cramp more often.
- Athletes: Athletes are prone to dehydration, especially those who participate in warm-weather sports.
- Pregnancy: Pregnancy causes a host of complications, one of which is muscle cramping. This is due to a number of reasons, including fatigue, dehydration, mineral depletion and carrying around extra weight.
- Medical Conditions: Those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or nerve, liver or thyroid disorders, have an increased risk of cramping.
When to Consult a Medical Professional
Most hand cramps disappear on their own and are rarely serious enough to require the attention of a medical professional. That said, reach out to your doctor if you can relate to any of the following:
- Your cramps cause severe discomfort.
- Your cramps are accompanied by redness, skin changes or leg swelling.
- Your cramps come with muscle fatigue or weakness.
- Your cramps occur on a frequent basis.
- Your cramps don't improve with self-care.
What Medical Professionals Treat Hand Cramping?
Because there are so many different specialists out there, it can be difficult to determine who to call when your cramps become worrisome.
Typically, primary care doctors treat muscle cramps, but if the symptoms are bad enough, your primary doctor may refer you to a specialist physician, such as an orthopedist, physiatrist, rheumatologist, neurologist or intensive-care physician. Your first call, however, should be to your primary doctor, as he or she can refer you to the correct professional if necessary.
Diagnosing Muscle Cramps
In order to determine the best treatment for your cramps, your doctor or specialist will need to determine the cause. First, your doctor will review your medical history to determine the frequency, intensity, character and location of your muscle spasms—both those that occur in the broken hand and throughout the body. The professional will also check to see what prescription medications that you are currently on, as medications often play a role in dehydration and muscle cramping.
After your doctor has performed a thorough review of your medical history, he or she will perform a thorough physical examination to test the strength and dexterity of your muscles, as well as your nerve function.
If necessary, the doctor will order blood tests to check for the presence or lack of muscle enzymes, which can help him or her determine if muscle injury has occurred. If those tests don't reveal anything, your doctor may order blood tests to assess the levels of certain minerals in your body, including magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and calcium. If blood tests still don't yield any answers, you may be referred to a neurologist, who may perform tests to assess the conduction velocity of your nerves and an electromyogram.
Treating Muscle Cramps
Once a doctor has diagnosed the cause of your hand cramps and wrist sprained, he or she can begin the course of treatment. Typically, simply relaxing the affected muscle or muscles via massage, stretching and heat application can relieve muscle cramps.
However, if the reason for your cramping is an underlying health issue, the doctor may order electrolyte repletion, rehydration, calcium supplementation or hormone treatment. In extreme circumstances, the health professional may prescribe muscle relaxants. Some common muscle relaxants include:
- Orphenadrine (Norflex)
- Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril)
- Baclofen (Lioresal)
There are also home remedies for muscle cramps. Those include:
- Drinking tonic water before bed
- Stretching the affected muscle
- Pressing the hand on a wall with fingers down
- Using a heating pad or soaking the hand in hot water
Preventing Muscle Cramps
In most cases, hand cramps are preventable. You can prevent your hand muscles and other muscles of your body from cramping by adhering to the following two tips:
- Stretch: Stretch before and after you use a muscle for exercise or any activity that you intend to do for a long period of time. If you know that you experience cramps at night, scaphoid fracture your muscles before going to bed. Light hand exercises before bedtime may also be able to help you prevent cramping while you sleep.
- Stay Hydrated: Dehydration is one of the biggest culprits of muscle cramping. Fortunately, dehydration is easy to avoid. Drink plenty of liquids each day. Bear in mind that the recommended amount is more of a guideline, and your liquid intake will vary depending on your particular activity levels, age, health, the weather and medications that you take. Staying hydrated can not only prevent muscle cramps, but it can also improve your mood and boost your energy levels.
In most cases, hand cramps are not really anything about which you should be concerned. That said, if you experience chronic cramping and live in a state of discomfort and to hip bursitis exercises to get rid of pain, reach out to your primary care doctor right away for diagnosis and treatment.