Hand Cramps: Causes and Home Remedies

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hand cramps
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Muscle cramps and aches often accompany the rigors of life, and are rarely a cause for concern. Yet, hand cramps, especially finger cramps, can be a sign of health issues such as dehydration, nerve damage, or even pregnancy. Knowing how to get rid of hand cramps is half the battle, and a variety of herbal teas, essential oils, and other home remedies could help treat the problem.

By definition, cramps in hands are an involuntary, painful muscle contraction. This article will explore everything you need to know about hand cramps, including the causes, symptoms, and medical conditions associated with muscle cramps. We will also delve into natural hand cramps treatment, as well as how to prevent hand spasms.

Causes of Hand Cramps

Do you ask yourself, “Why do my hands cramp up?” There are several factors that could cause your arm, hand, or finger muscles to contract excessively. Let’s take a look at the most common root causes of muscle cramps in hands:

1. Overuse of the muscles

The overuse of the same muscles, or holding your hand in an awkward position for a long time can put immense strain on the muscles, and lead to hand cramps. Cramps may also occur from writing, clenching your hands, or working out for a long time frame. Running or cycling can also cause muscle fatigue and electrolyte imbalance.

2. Nutrient deficiency

Several nutrient deficiencies can contribute to cramping in the hands and fingers, especially vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

3. Nerve problems

Any damage to a nerve, multiple nerves, or nerve group can lead to muscles cramps. Injuries and disorders of the peripheral nerves can also cause muscle cramps to the hands.

4. Poor circulation

Poor blood circulation can lead to cold hands or purplish fingers, and cramping in these extremities.

5. Dehydration

Dehydration can lead to cramping, possibly from drinking alcohol or working out in heat without drinking enough

6. Unhealthy lifestyle

Various unhealthy lifestyle practices can cause hand cramping, including excessive alcohol consumption, poor sleep, poor diet, and taking medications like diuretics.

7. Pregnancy

Muscle cramps are common during pregnancy, and calcium deficiency can also cause pregnant women to have spasms.

Hand Cramps Symptoms

Maybe you experience hand cramps when gripping your hands. You could also experience hand cramping and locking up where it’s hard to move it. Finger cramps and locking of the digits is also common. Maybe your hand cramps up like a claw, or you experience fingers cramping and curling at the same time.

All of these situations can be painful, but hand cramps may also be accompanied by other symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • Difficulty moving your wrist, hand, or fingers
  • Joint pain
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Swelling of the joints or hand
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle twitching, seizures, or spasms
  • Leg pain
  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness of other joints
  • “Pins and needles” sensation
  • Uncontrolled, rapid motions

Medical Conditions Associated with Muscle Cramps

There are also various medical conditions associated with muscle cramps. Here are some of the most common below:

1. Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia is characterized as low calcium levels in the blood. As the condition progresses, muscle cramps, including in the hands and fingers, are common.

2. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joints breaks down and causes stiffness, pain, and swelling, especially in the hands and fingers.

3. Low Potassium (Hypokalemia)

Low potassium in your blood is also known as hypokalemia. Muscle cramps, which can occur in the hands and fingers, are among the symptoms of hypokalemia.

4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Burning or tingling in the hands and fingers are among the symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, which afflicts those who constantly use their hands, including writers, assembly-line workers, or musicians.

5. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the white blood cells attack the cartilage in the joints. Inflammation, pain, and tenderness can occur in the joints of your hands and fingers.

6. Broken (Fractured Hand)

A broken or fractured hand is a very common cause of cramping, pain, swelling, or bruising in your hands of fingers.

7. Hypoparathyroidim

Hypoparathyroidism is a reduced activity of the parathyroid hormone (PTH), and this can lead to low calcium and high phosphorus in the blood. Tingling or cramping in the hands or fingers are possible symptoms.

8. Dupuytren’s Contracture

Dupuytren’s contracture is a hand deformity that develops over a number of years. Knots of tissue will form under the skin, and eventually will create bent fingers.

9. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, degenerative, and progressive disease of the nervous system that causes movement, balance, and speech problems. It also causes weakness or numbness in the limbs, including the hands and fingers.

10. Tetany

Tetany is the result of an electrolyte imbalance, including deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Some common symptoms include painful muscle cramps and twitches of the hands and fingers.

11. Brachial Plexus Nerve Injury

A brachial plexus nerve injury involves the nerves in the neck region that branch off to form other nerves to control movement, including the shoulder, arm, and hand. Pain, muscle weakness, and cramping may occur in the hands and fingers.

Home Remedies to Relieve Hand Cramps

The most common drug treatment for cramps is NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which often produce side effects like heartburn, stomach pain, stomach ulcers, tinnitus, headaches, dizziness, allergic reactions, kidney or liver problems, and more.

However, hand cramps can be relieved by various self-care methods. Here are the most common natural hand cramps treatment in the form of food, exercises, supplements, and massage therapy, among other natural therapies.

1. Warm Compress

Apply a warm compress like a heating pad to your finger or hand cramps. Pain will be relieved once the heat encourages blood flow and relaxes your muscles. If pain continues after 10 minutes, wait 30 minutes before applying the compress once again.

2. Foods Rich in Acetic Acid

A diet high in acetic acid foods might also help relieve cramps. Some of the better options include apple cider vinegar, pickle juice, sauerkraut, or kombucha tea.

Acetic acid is needed for acetylcholine synthesis, and this improves the functionality and coordination of your muscles in your hands and fingers. As a result, cramping could be alleviated or eliminated.

3. Herbal Tea

Research indicates that stress and anxiety may be another cause of cramps in hands. That being said, several herbal teas could relieve stress and relax the body, and as a result, potentially provide relief from your muscle cramps.

Valerenic acid in chamomile tea is known as a muscle relaxant that could help relieve cramps. The menthol in peppermint tea is another natural muscle relaxant. Other good herbal relaxant teas include peppermint, lemon balm, passionflower, valerian, ginger, Gingko biloba, and ashwagandha.

4. Stretching

One of the fastest ways to relieve cramps in hands is performing a few gentle stretching exercises. The best approach here is to flex the hand muscles while also moving the hands around. You can also try pressing the hand on the wall with the fingers facing down to relieve hand cramps.

5. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is another way to treat hand cramps. Simply use warm massage oil on the affected area. Light and gentle strokes will relieve the pain. Research published in the journal Pain Management Nursing in 2004 found that hand massage appears to be an effective, inexpensive, and low-risk strategy for pain management. Another study from 2011 showed that massage therapy would improve muscle pain, which showcased the muscle relaxant effects of massage.  

Also, a stress ball and hand exerciser can both help reduce finger or hand cramps. This is especially useful for people that perform regular actions with their hands.

6. Homeopathy

Homeopathy is another healing modality that could help with hand or finger cramps. Some remedies your homeopath may recommend include Magnesia phosphorica, Ignatia amara, causticum, Calcarea carbonica, Nux vomica, and Rhus toxicodendron. Arnica is also the top choice for pain and deep tenderness.

7. Essential Oils

Essential oils are great to have on hand for relaxing muscles and soothing cramps. For hand cramps, simply dilute any essential oil in carrier oil like coconut oil or jojoba oil, and apply the mixture to the cramping area of concern. The following are my six top essential oil picks for relieving hand and finger cramps:

  • Peppermint: Peppermint is a natural anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic muscle relaxant that is useful for cramps. Research shows that peppermint oil applied topically can help relieve muscle pain.
  • Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus is another top essential oil for muscle cramping. The analgesic properties of this oil may be perfect for relieving muscle tension. One study from 2013 found that inhaling eucalyptus oil can reduce pain and inflammation, which means this oil can be great for muscle cramps.
  • Wintergreen: For centuries, Native Americans have traditionally used wintergreen essential oil for joint and muscle pain. This is because this oil contains methyl salicylate—a common medicinal ingredient also found in aspirin. The antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects of wintergreen could effectively treat muscle cramps and spasms.
  • Thyme: Thyme essential oil has a heating effect that benefits the joints and muscles. This is due to thyme oil’s antiseptic, anti-rheumatic, and antispasmodic properties.
  • Roman chamomile: Roman chamomile is a popular essential oil with antispasmodic properties beneficial for hand and finger cramping due to muscle spasms. Research articles confirm that Roman chamomile is used for rheumatic pain and muscle spasms.
  • Lavender: The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties in lavender oil are effective at treating pain from muscle tension and stress. It might also improve blood circulation, which is perfect for relieving muscle spasms due to anxiety.

Read More: Best Essential Oils for Sore Muscles and How to Use Them

How to Prevent Hand Cramps

It is best to stop hand cramps before they even start. Add the following natural lifestyle strategies for preventing cramping of the hands and fingers:

  • Prevent electrolyte imbalances: Since nutrient deficiencies, especially electrolytes, can contribute to muscle cramping, it is a good idea to make sure you get enough magnesium, calcium, and potassium on a daily basis. Many of these minerals can be obtained from a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, such as leafy greens, celery, and cucumbers.
  • Hydrate well: Dehydration is a common cause of hand cramps; however, increasing your water intake can help you stay hydrated and prevent muscle problems. Refill a large glass water bottle throughout your day.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods: Your diet can definitely trigger hand and finger cramping. Prevent cramping by avoiding processed foods, refined sugar, refined breads, caffeine, alcohol, and trans fats.

Sudden hand cramps can be a nuisance, especially when the cause can be one of several different things. This will include nerve problems, poor circulation, muscle overuse, nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and an overall unhealthy lifestyle. Not to mention your cramps can be accompanied by other symptoms, like tingling, numbness, or leg pain.

It is also important to be aware that a number of medical conditions can be associated with hand cramps, such as hypocalcemia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypokalemia, carpal tunnel syndrome, fractured hands, hypoparathyroidism, multiple sclerosis, dupuytren’s contracture, tetany, and bracial plexus nerve injury.

There are various home remedies in a natural hand cramps treatment. Some of these include herbal teas, stretching, massage therapy, a warm compress, homeopathy, and essential oils. You can also prevent the cramping with a healthy diet with plenty of filtered water.

Also Read:

Stern, L.Z., et al., “Muscle Cramps,” Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examination. 3rd edition; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK376/, last accessed Oct. 4, 2017.
“Brachial Plexus Injury (BPI),” Neurology and Neurosurgery,” Johns Hopkins Medicine; http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/peripheral_nerve_surgery/conditions/brachial_plexus_injury_bpi.html, last accessed Oct. 4, 2017.
Wang, H.L., et al., “Foot and hand massage as an intervention for postoperative pain,” Pain Management Nursing, June 2004; 5(2): 59-65, PMID: 15297952.
Jun, Y.S., et al., “Effect of Eucalyptus Oil Inhalation on Pain and Inflammatory Responses after Total Knee Replacement: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, June 18, 2013; 2013: 502727, doi: 10.1155/2013/502727.
Srivastava, J.K., et al., “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future,” Molecular Medicine Report, Nov. 1, 2010; 3(6): 895-901, doi: 10.3892/mmr.2010.377.
Silva, G.L., et al., “Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil,” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias, Aug. 4, 2015; 87(2 Suppl): 1397-1408, doi: 10.1590/0001-1765201520150056.
Jane, S.W., et al., “Effects of massage on pain, mood status, relaxation, and sleep in Taiwanese patients with metastatic bone pain: a randomized clinical trial,” Pain, October 2011; 152(10): 2432-2442, doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.06.021.
“The 8 Best Natural Muscle Relaxers,” Dr. Axe; https://draxe.com/muscle-relaxers/, last accessed Oct. 4, 2017.