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What your hands say about your health

Have you ever woken up at night because of numbness in your hand? Do you feel tingling in your palms? Does one of your fingers stay locked in a bent position? Have you noticed a loss in strength or dexterity? You might barely notice them at first, but over time, these symptoms often become very uncomfortable. They can also be signs of one or more serious hand disorders.

Certain symptoms require a thorough medical examination and proper diagnosis. If they aren’t treated, or are treated too late, hand conditions can affect your quality of life and cause permanent damage. Keep reading for five symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.


1. WAKING UP WITH NUMB FINGERS

This is likely caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition, which is common after age 50, occurs when the median nerve inside the carpal tunnel in your wrist is compressed. This compression affects your hand’s sensory and motor functions. It can cause a tingling sensation, pain, and in the severest cases, an inability to perform certain tasks. Symptoms often feel worse at night or while using the hands.

 

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2. PAINFUL CATCHING AND LOCKING OF THE FINGERS

The locking of one or more fingers is a telltale sign of stenosing tenosynovitis, also known as trigger finger. This common condition is caused by a mechanical conflict between the finger’s flexor tendon and the sheath that surrounds it. A thickening of the tendon impedes its normal gliding motion and causes it to catch, producing a physical sensation. This creates discomfort that can become very painful when flexing or extending the fingers. Over time, fingers can stay locked in a bent position and need to be straightened using the other hand.


3. DECREASED SENSITIVITY

Decreased sensitivity is a common side effect of various medical conditions, including cubital tunnel syndrome, caused by the entrapment of the ulnar nerve at the elbow. This disorder is typically characterized by pain and sensory loss in the ring or small fingers. Numbness can also be a sign of advanced carpal tunnel syndrome. The affected fingers are usually the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger, in other words the fingers innervated by the median nerve.


4. WEAKNESS

A loss of strength can have many underlying causes. Patients suffering from advanced carpal tunnel syndrome often notice muscle weakness in their hands and wrists. Compression of the median nerve at the elbow, a condition called lacertus syndrome, can also cause a decrease in strength and a reduced ability to grasp objects. In some cases, weakness may be related to a more serious neurological or neuromuscular disorder, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson’s disease.


5. LOSS OF FINE MOTOR SKILLS

Clumsiness (for example, dropping things), decreased endurance (hands and forearms that tire quickly) and difficulty picking objects up or doing certain meticulous tasks are signs that suggest damage to the median nerve at the elbow. The likely culprit is usually lacertus syndrome.


DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT

A physical examination and a history of symptoms are used to diagnose hand conditions, while imaging tests and specific maneuvers can confirm a diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. Over the past 15 years, major advances have significantly improved how a variety of conditions can be treated with surgery. Several procedures can now be performed using local anaesthesia, without requiring hospitalization or long recovery periods.

Our hands can tell us a lot about our overall health. Don’t brush off your symptoms. If you’re experiencing discomfort or have noticed unusual symptoms, speak with your Medisys physician during your Preventive Health Assessment or communicate instantly with a healthcare professional with Medisys On- Demand. If medically required, you may receive a referral to see a specialist. The earlier a condition is diagnosed and the faster it’s treated, the more likely you are to experience a full recovery. Click here to learn more about our preventive health and virtual care services.

 

About the author: Dr. Jean-Paul Brutus is a specialized and passionate hand surgeon whose practice focuses exclusively on treating conditions of the hand, using the most state-of-the-art and least invasive treatment techniques. He is the co-owner of Exception MD, a private clinic dedicated to the treatment of the upper and lower limbs. Click here to learn more.