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Why Is My Hand Cramping?

Overview

Hand cramps can be extremely uncomfortable and either sporadic or chronic. When your hand cramps up, you may have difficulty making a fist or bringing your fingers together. You might experience cramping in other parts of your body as well. While hand cramping isn’t dangerous in and of itself, it may be a sign of a larger issue when other symptoms are present.

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Causes

What causes hand cramps?

If you are able to determine the cause of your hand cramps, you’re more likely to be able to keep them from occurring in the future. The following are only a few of the possible reasons for hand cramps. Contact your doctor for more information.

Low magnesium

Magnesium helps to maintain strong bones and relax muscles.

This mineral can aid in preventing muscle cramps, including hand cramps, as well as restless leg syndrome and eye twitches. If you’re low on magnesium, you may also experience some of the following symptoms:

  • fatigue
  • PMS and menstrual cramps
  • headaches
  • asthma
  • decreased tolerance for exercise
  • insomnia
  • dizziness

Learn more about the health benefits of magnesium.

Dehydration

If you don’t drink enough water, you may become dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body lacks enough water to properly function. Dehydration affects the functioning of the muscles and causes them to cramp.

While dehydration is more likely to occur in hot temperatures, you can develop dehydration without proper water intake in cold temperatures as well. Other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • bad breath
  • fever and chills
  • dry skin
  • craving sweet foods
  • headaches

Learn more about dehydration.

Poor circulation

Poor circulation happens when your body lacks sufficient blood flow. Circulation sends blood, nutrients, and oxygen through your body. You may feel circulation issues in your hands, arms and legs. You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • pain
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • stinging or throbbing pain

Learn more about poor circulation.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the nerve that goes from the forearm to the palm is compressed. The nerve is inside the carpal tunnel, which comprises the flexor retinaculum, tendons, and the bone just below the hand. The compression can be caused by thickening or swelling of tendons that have become irritated.

Those with carpal tunnel syndrome usually experience the following symptoms along with hand cramps:

  • burning or tingling in the palm and fingers
  • a swelling sensation
  • decreased grip strength
  • worsening symptoms upon waking

Other types of repetitive strain injuries can also cause hand cramps, such as writer’s or musician’s cramp and sports-related injuries.

Learn more about carpal tunnel syndrome.

Stiff hand syndrome

Stiff hand syndrome, also known as diabetic stiff hand syndrome and diabetic cheiroarthropathy, is a complication of diabetes in which thickening and waxiness of the hands begins to limit the movements of the fingers.

Those with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can experience hand cramps from stiff hand syndrome. Researchers believe that this condition may be caused by an increase of glycosylation, in which sugar molecules attach to protein molecules. The increase causes the skin to increase in collagen. Other symptoms of stiff hand syndrome include:

  • the inability to strengthen joints
  • stiffness in the little finger that eventually extends to the thumb
  • the inability to bring all fingers together
  • thick, waxy skin on the back of the hand

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause hand cramps, as well as cramping in other parts of the body.

This autoimmune disease attacks the joints, causing inflammation that makes the joint tissue thicken. In time, the joints can lose their mobility.

If you have RA, you may feel the cramps not just in the hands, but also in the feet, ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. Joint inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis is usually symmetrical, meaning that if one hand is affected, the other usually is as well.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis.

Kidney disease

Kidney disease, or renal disease, occurs when your kidneys can’t remove waste from your body well enough or keep your fluids balanced. Kidney disease can cause cramps, due to fluid and electrolyte imbalances, blood flow issues or nerve damage.

Cramps — especially leg cramps — are common for those with kidney disease. They are thought to be caused by imbalances in fluid and electrolytes, or by nerve damage or blood flow problems. If you have this condition, you may also experience:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling of ankles and feet
  • sleep problems
  • brain fog
  • persistent itching

Learn more about kidney disease.

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Treatment

How are hand cramps treated?

General home remedies for hand cramps include stretching, swimming, strength-building exercises, increasing your fluid intake, and taking vitamin D supplements. Treatments may also be prescribed based on the reason for your symptoms.

To treat low magnesium

Increase magnesium intake by eating more leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains. Take a magnesium (or magnesium and calcium) supplement. If you experience stomach upset, try magnesium chelate, which is easier to digest.

To treat dehydration

For mild dehydration, drink water as well as a rehydration drink with electrolytes, such as Gatorade. You can also create your own rehydration drink with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 6 teaspoons of sugar, and 1 liter of water. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency, and you should go to the emergency room.

To treat poor circulation

Participate in an exercise program recommended by your doctor. Other treatments depend on the cause of the circulation issue.

To treat carpal tunnel syndrome

Take frequent breaks, avoid activities that aggravate symptoms, and apply a cool pack. Your doctor may also suggest splinting, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, yoga, physical therapy, or surgery.

To treat stiff hand syndrome

Maintain proper blood glucose levels, and try exercises to strengthen the hand and keep it flexible, such as tossing a ball. Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy.

To treat rheumatoid arthritis

Your doctor may want you to try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or surgery.

To treat kidney disease

Stretch the muscles in your hand, take a bath or hot shower, get a massage, and drink plenty of water.

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Outlook

What is the outlook for hand cramps?

Hand cramps aren’t serious when they occur infrequently. Sometimes a muscle spasm can happen if the hand is in an awkward position during sleep or if you handle something in a way that momentarily aggravates it. However, if your hands cramp frequently or interfere with your life, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Since hand cramps are a symptom, not a condition, the doctor can help you figure out the cause and can create a proper treatment plan. See your doctor right away if you experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • frequent vomiting
  • pain that moves from your left hand up through your arm

This can be a sign of a heart attack.

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