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Home » Anatomy » Claw Hand: What It Is, Causes and Treatment

Claw Hand: What It Is, Causes and Treatment

Claw hand is also known as ulnar claw is a hand deformity that causes the fingers to bend inward towards the palm resembling a claw. It can affect one or both hands and can be caused by a variety of factors including nerve damage, injury and disease.

Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of claw hand is the bent fingers. However, people with claw hand may also experience other symptoms such as:

  • Weakness in the fingers and hands
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers and hands
  • Difficulty grasping and manipulating objects
  • Pain in the fingers, hands and wrists

Causes

The most common cause of claw hand is damage to the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve is one of the three major nerves in the arm and hand. It controls the muscles that move the ring finger and pinky finger as well as some of the muscles that move the hand and wrist.

Damage to the ulnar nerve can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Injury: The ulnar nerve can be injured in an accident such as a fall or a car accident. It can also be injured by repetitive use such as from using a computer mouse or playing video games.
  • Nerve compression: The ulnar nerve can be compressed by a variety of things including a bone spur, a ganglion cyst or a tumor.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and leprosy can also damage the ulnar nerve.

Other causes of claw hand include:

  • Stroke: A stroke can damage the nerves that control the hand and muscles.
  • Spinal cord injury: A spinal cord injury can also damage the nerves that control the hand and muscles.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): ALS is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): MS is an autoimmune disease that can damage the myelin sheath, the protective coating around nerve fibers.
  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders that affect muscle movement and coordination.
  • Congenital claw hand: Congenital claw hand is a rare condition in which a baby is born with claw hand.

Diagnosis

To diagnose claw hand a doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about the patient’s medical history. The doctor may also order tests such as nerve conduction studies and electromyography (EMG) to assess the function of the nerves and muscles in the hand.

Treatment

The treatment for claw hand depends on the underlying cause. If the it is caused by nerve damage the doctor may recommend surgery to repair or decompress the nerve. If the this condition is caused by a medical condition such as diabetes or arthritis the doctor will treat the underlying condition.

In addition to medical treatment, people with claw hand may also benefit from physical therapy and occupational therapy. Physical therapy can help to strengthen the muscles in the hand and improve range of motion. Occupational therapy can help to teach people how to perform everyday activities with this deformity.

In some cases, people with this condition may need to wear splints or braces to support the hand and fingers. In severe cases surgery may be necessary to correct the deformity.

Prevention

There is no sure way to prevent claw hand. However, there are some things that people can do to reduce their risk of developing the condition, such as:

  • Avoiding repetitive use injuries: To avoid repetitive use injuries, it is important to take breaks when using a computer mouse or playing video games. It is also important to use proper posture and ergonomics.
  • Treating underlying medical conditions: People with medical conditions that can damage the ulnar nerve, such as diabetes and arthritis, should treat these conditions carefully.
  • Wearing protective gear: When playing sports or doing other activities that could injure the hand, people should wear protective gear, such as gloves and wrist guards.

Outlook

The outlook for claw hand depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the nerve damage. If the nerve damage is mild, people with it may make a full recovery. However, if the nerve damage is severe, people may have some permanent disability.

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