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Hand or foot spasms

Definition

Spasms are contractions of the muscles of the hands, thumbs, feet, or toes. Spasms are usually brief, but they can be severe and painful.

Alternative Names

Foot spasms; Carpopedal spasm; Spasms of the hands or feet; Hand spasm

Considerations

Symptoms depend on the cause. They may include:

  • Cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness, tingling, or a "pins and needles" feeling
  • Twitching
  • Uncontrolled, purposeless, rapid motions

Nighttime leg cramps are common in the elderly.

Causes

Cramps or spasms in the muscles often have no clear cause.

Possible causes of hand or foot spasms include:

  • Abnormal levels of electrolytes or minerals in the body
  • Brain disorders, such as Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, dystonia, and Huntington disease
  • Chronic kidney disease and dialysis
  • Damage to a single nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) or multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) that are connected to muscles
  • Dehydration (not having enough fluids in your body)
  • Hyperventilation (overbreathing), which is rapid or deep breathing that can occur with anxiety or panic
  • Muscle cramps, usually caused by overuse during sports or work activity
  • Pregnancy, more often during the third trimester
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Too little vitamin D
  • Use of certain medications

Home Care

If vitamin D deficiency is the cause, supplemental vitamin D should be taken under the doctor's direction. Calcium supplements may also help.

Being active helps keep muscles loose. Aerobic exercise, especially swimming, and strength building exercises are helpful. But care must be taken not to overdo activity, which can worsen the spasms.

Drinking plenty of fluids during exercise is also important.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you notice recurrent spasms of your hands or feet, call your health care provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The doctor or nurse will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms.

Blood and urine tests may be done. Tests may include:

Treatment depends on the cause of the spasms. For example, if they are due to a low level of vitamin D in your body, your doctor will likely recommend that you take a vitamin D supplement.

References

Stein J. Spasticity. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 144.


Review Date: 2/24/2014
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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