Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Are Hand Cramps a Symptom?

You’ve certainly experienced the uncomfortable feeling in which your hand muscles tighten or contract uncontrollably and won’t relax no matter what you do. It happens unexpectedly — when you’re writing something down, typing a letter, are in the middle of a text, or perhaps when you’re gardening, cooking, or doing some other task.

Common Causes of Hand Cramps

Whether it happens in your hand, leg, or another part of your body, cramping is often related to muscle fatigue, and there can be a variety of triggers. “Cramping can be caused by dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, overuse, or deconditioning of muscles,” says Kelly Weselman, MD, a rheumatologist with WellStar Medical Group in Smyrna, Georgia.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may wonder if hand cramping has anything to do with your disease. The answer is that it very well could.

Hand Cramps and RA

“Muscle cramps in the hands is a very frequent symptom described by patients with RA,” Dr. Weselman says. “Inflammation of the joints and tendons in adjacent muscles can affect muscle function, making RA patients more prone to muscle cramps.” And the joint stiffness that people with RA experience can mimic a muscle cramp, so it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the two, she says.

Although muscle spasms may be uncomfortable, they rarely cause any serious complications. You may notice that cramping gets worse under certain condtions, such as in colder temperatures, during periods of increased joint inflammation, at times when you’re not using your hands as often (and your muscles are weakened as a result), or following repetitive activities such as typing or texting — which stress the hand muscles, she explains.

Moves for Hand Cramp Relief

What should you do when a muscle cramp strikes? Try these DIY fixes:

  • Gentle stretching To help the cramp subside, try this simple stretch. Using the opposite hand, push back all four fingers and thumb on the cramping hand, very lightly, and massage the tight muscle.
  • Heat A heat wrap can also help tame tight muscles, but don't worry if you don’t have one at the ready — simply run your hands under warm water instead. Or improvise by making your own warm compress: Fill a tube sock with uncooked rice, tye a knot at the top, and warm it in the microwave for about a minute, Weselman suggests.
  • It’s also possible that certain medications may indirectly help ease muscle cramping by treating inflammation, she explains.

Stop Cramps Before They Start

Better yet, aim to prevent muscle cramps in the first place. “Keeping hand muscles strong will help prevent muscle fatigue, so exercises can decrease cramps long term,” Weselman explains. Try repetitive finger tapping (tapping your thumb to each finger), or squeezing silly putty or a stress ball.

If muscle cramps or hand pain persists, occurs often, or interferes with everyday activities, talk with your doctor, who can look for signs of underlying causes such as poor circulation, dehydration, poor nutrition, kidney disease, or electrolyte imbalances due to medication. In some cases, muscle atrophy could be related to injury, muscle abnormality, or a neurological condition.

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