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Claw hand is a condition in which your fingers are noticeably curved or bent. This condition can affect one or more of your fingers, on one or both hands. The condition gets its name from the curvature of the fingers, which makes the hands resemble a bear’s claw.
Claw hand can be a congenital defect, a defect present at birth, or it may be due to certain disorders or injuries. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may have difficulty using your hands to pick up and grasp items.
Common causes of claw hand include:
Claw hand sometimes occurs as a defect at birth.
Damage to the nerves can occur in the arm or hand from injuries or diseases, such as diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy, or damage to the nerves caused by uncontrolled blood sugar levels, can lead to claw hand. Many other conditions can cause nerve damage. One common cause is cervical spondylosis, or abnormal wear of the cartilage or bone in your spine that can cause compression on your nerves. Alcoholic neuropathy is damage to the nerves caused by excessive or long-term alcohol use.
Claw hand can occur due to scarring of the skin on the arm or hand is the result of a burn injury.
A bacterial disease such as leprosy can cause damage to the skin. However, leprosy is extremely rare in the United States. There are currently an estimated 6,500 people in the United States with leprosy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and only half of those cases cause enough symptoms to require treatment.
Call your doctor if you notice that you’re developing claw hand. You should also contact your doctor if you have claw hand and your symptoms are getting worse, or aren’t responding to treatment.
Doctors can make a diagnosis of claw hand based on the appearance of your fingers. However, your doctor may perform tests to determine the cause and severity of the condition.
Your doctor may ask you questions about your medical history to determine if a past injury or illness is the cause of your symptoms.
Your doctor may ask you to bend your fingers and grasp objects, in addition to other tests, to see how much strength and flexibility you have in your fingers and hand.
An electromyography (EMG) test checks how well your nerves are working. To perform an EMG, your doctor will insert thin needles through your skin into the muscles of your hand. The needles connect to a machine that measures electrical impulses from your nerves when you move. You may feel a little bit of discomfort from the small needles, but it’s usually mild. You may also have slight bruising or experience minor soreness for a few days after the test.
If the EMG test results show that you have abnormal nerve activity, your doctor may run more tests to determine the cause of your nerve damage. The tests your doctor will perform depend on your medical history and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
Claw hand is often treatable. With treatment, your symptoms may improve or completely disappear, depending on the cause and severity of your condition. The type of treatment that’s best for you depends on what’s causing your symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you gain more flexibility in your fingers and hand. Physical therapy may consist of stretches and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy may be the sole treatment or it may occur in combination with other treatments.
If the curvature of your fingers is due to an injury, resting your hand may be the only treatment you need. Your doctor may also suggest that you wear a brace that keeps your wrist straight to prevent further injury.
You may need surgery to repair damaged nerves, ligaments, or muscles that are the cause of your symptoms. If your injury is due to tight skin, as is seen in people who have burn injuries, skin grafts and surgery to remove scar tissue may be necessary. Multiple surgeries may be necessary for serious defects and for burn injuries.
Your doctor may prescribe medication to treat an underlying disease that’s causing your symptoms. For example, antibiotics are a treatment for leprosy.
Written by: Rose Kivi
Medically reviewed on: Mar 01, 2016: William A Morrison MD
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